Missing the Point
The WNBA doesn’t need to justify itself with a woman in the NBA.
by Ben York
Recently, NBA Commissioner David Stern told Sports Illustrated‘s Ian Thomsen that he believes women could be playing in the NBA within the decade. Stern thinks that in the next 5-10 years, a women’s basketball player will emerge with the unrivaled potential to make it on a NBA squad. As I’m sure you can imagine, this stirred up quite a heated debate.
My initial feelings regarding Stern’s comments differed a bit from the norm. Rather than get caught up in the gender issue, I took his statements in a whole different direction. If I’m understanding Stern’s comments correctly, he’s saying there is going to be a player in the next few years who is a better scorer than Diana Taurasi? A more complete player than Lauren Jackson? A player with a better physique than Tamika Catchings? A better post player than Lisa Leslie? Interesting. So, the phenomenal women that are currently playing in the league aren’t good enough?
It’s a rhetorical question, and beside the point.
The real issue that so many people are missing is that a publicized, marketed and indelible effort to put a woman in the NBA would do far more harm than good for the WNBA.
In his article, Thomsen writes “..the pursuit of ‘the first woman’ will also create new respect for the WNBA. From now on every great player in that league will be viewed from a new perspective. Is she good enough to play with the men? What does she need to improve in order to make that leap.” Let me be frank — there is nothing that these women should have to prove. Nothing. Having a WNBA player make it into the NBA shouldn’t suddenly justify their existence or be deem them finally worthwhile. Guess what, people — they already are! Suggesting that having a woman make an NBA roster would finally earn them, and the league as a whole, mainstream respect is, to me, insulting; and I’m sure that many women would agree with me. Shouldn’t they already be respected? Why isn’t the WNBA currently looked at as the pinnacle of accomplishment for these women? Why should making it to the NBA be looked at as better than making it to the WNBA?
That’s not to say it wouldn’t be a major accomplishment, but there is no doubt in my mind that it if we really wanted it to happen, it could be done immediately. I already know that Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker could more than hold their own in a NBA game; we don’t have to wait 5-10 years for another player to come along. Heck, it’s already been done! Ann Meyers-Drysdale already proved it could happen 30 years ago.
Whether we mean to or not, the mere question oozes elitism. In order to debate if a woman is “good” enough to make it to the NBA, there is a collective thought that the NBA is “better than” everyone else. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. But, if we are honest with ourselves, it’s a moot point. Why? The WNBA is a much different game than the NBA; the physicality of the game is different, the mindsets of the coaches/players vary, and it’s played more below the rim. We must stop continuing to compare the two; they’re two different leagues, two completely different styles, and two vastly different philosophies. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just how it is. For far too long, society has compared the two leagues and, by default, given the WNBA the inferior status because the NBA is viewed as more athletic and exciting. In fact, one could make an argument that the WNBA is more how basketball was intended to be played.
Former WNBA star Olympia Scott addressed this issue perfectly in a recent article. In the column on her website, she asked the proverbial question, Why do women need to be compared to men? Scott states in her post, “..it baffles me that women’s basketball players must constantly be compared to men, the WNBA compared to the NBA. It’s almost as if we must be able to compete with the men in order to be validated as professional athletes.”
This is exactly my point – these women don’t have to justify anything or feel like they are constantly fighting an uphill battle in which they’ll attain great things…but still are viewed as inferior when compared to men. If a woman were to prove that she could, indeed, play significant minutes in the League, where does that leave everyone else? Does that mean the players before her weren’t as good or worthy?
In fact, the only thing that does is affirm society’s age-old beliefs that in order to be accepted, you must be on an equal plane as men. Instead of holding high aspirations to make it into the NBA, why don’t we focus and affirm that making it to the WNBA is just as amazing. Why should these women feel that, no matter what, they still are a step below NBA players? The WNBA the most competitive and anointed women’s professional sports league in the world – is that not prestigious enough?
We have to ask ourselves this – when will it stop? Let’s say there is a woman in the NBA in the next few years. Let’s say she does pretty well, blows all expectations out of the water, and gets 20-25 minutes a game. Will that be good enough? Or, will people start to remind her that she hasn’t made the All-Star team? Or maybe that she isn’t even a starter? How would that feel to her? Would we be setting her up to fail?
Again, I’m not trying to discount the importance of a WNBA player making it into the NBA. To me, it’s not even a question – there are current players whom I think would be able to play. It’s really a question of equality. I worry that this will become a major issue in the coming years and will disrupt what the WNBA has worked so hard to attain – respect. Ann Meyers-Drysdale had the courage to do this 30 years ago when no one thought it was possible. Let’s not forget the significance of that accomplishment.
In the end, my thoughts might not mean much. Even though I will defend these ladies at every opportunity, the fact is I’m a guy and haven’t been through many of the battles and tribulations they’ve been through to get to where they are. So don’t take my word for it; listen to someone who has played in the WNBA for a decade – Olympia Scott: “We don’t need to try and play in the NBA to prove we are great players. We need the WNBA to prove itself a thriving professional league that will be sustained for generations to come, just as the men’s professional sports leagues have. Our daughters need great professional players to model their game after, just as our sons have. It’s imperative that we stop comparing the women’s game to the men and allow women’s basketball players to be just that… women’s basketball players.”