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Friday, June 4th, 2010 at 5:25 pm  |  11 responses

If You ‘Expect Great,’ Watch the NBA Finals

If you want the best women’s basketball league, watch the WNBA.

by Clay Kallam

Once you get past the glitz, the overblown pregame shows and endless chatter, the NBA Finals are simply riveting basketball – and one reason is the sheer magnificence of the athleticism.

Now, “magnificence” is not a word I throw around a lot, but NBA players are simply a breed apart. With all the World Cup ads blanketing ESPN and ABC, it’s hard not to wonder how good a soccer team the US would have if all the NBA players had grown up kicking a ball rather than dribbling it.

So what does this have to do with the WNBA? Simply put, it means the entertainment value of the women’s game will never match that of the NBA because of the athletic abilities of the players are so different. Even a boring NBA game will feature two or three jaw-dropping displays of pure athleticism that are worth watching regardless of the setting.

In the WNBA, though, there’s just not the same potential for consistent explosive plays that beg to be seen over and over again. Sure, there are brilliant passes, and all-out hustle plays, and skilled footwork and shots – but the jaw seldom drops in amazement. (And in a bad WNBA game, the jaw will drop, but usually it’s the beginning of a yawn.)

So does this mean the WNBA isn’t worth watching? Of course not, because the WNBA, especially with just 12 teams, offers up quality basketball played by professionaRoneeka Hodges & Svetlana Abrosimovals, and played by professionals who have much more reason to play hard all the time than their male counterparts.

One of those reasons is, oddly, the low level of pay in the WNBA compared to Europe. The WNBA maximum salary is around $90,000 while a max player will easily make double that in Europe – but paradoxically, pay level in Europe is in great part determined by performance in the WNBA. So the American rookie making $43,000 at home knows full well that if she plays great in the US she’ll make a bunch more money in Europe, where she won’t have to play as hard.

So there’s always something at stake in the WNBA, and there’s also a sense that the league won’t make it if the players aren’t totally committed to it. The women are on a kind of a mission, and it shows in how intense they are. (It’s also easier to be intense when the bodies are smaller – the potential for injury is the same regardless of the size of the athlete who receives a blow, so a 6-8 player is not necessarily any less likely to get hurt than a 6-1 player, male or female. But a 6-8 player is going to deliver a lot more punishment than a 6-1 player, especially over 82 games, so even aside from the money, there are reasons why women can, and do, play harder.)

But you know, kids play really hard in high school, and that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is going to pay $25 to watch them. In the end, professional sports’ teams are competing for the entertainment dollar, and part of the value is athleticism on display. The WNBA and NBA may be equal in some of the skills of the players (shooting and ballhandling, say) but they are not when it comes to spectacular plays.

In fact, they aren’t even close, and though it’s not like the Lakers and Celtics are going to deliver seven games’ worth of highlight reels, fans can count on several “did-you-see-that?” moments every time out. In short, expecting great in the NBA Finals is a given – but for the WNBA to lead fans to believe the same will happen in a San Antonio-Indiana game in mid-July is simply foolish.

The WNBA can and should succeed because it’s the best women’s basketball league in the world, and it can offer (if expansion dreams are held in check) a high-quality, professional product built around legitimate stars.

But it’s not the NBA, and shouldn’t pretend to be. Even the most ardent fan of the women’s game couldn’t watch the NBA Finals without being forced to admit the men do things that, at this point at least, the women can’t even imagine doing – and that’s one reason NBA players earn a lot more money, and get so much more media coverage.

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  • Ace

    The WNBA is not the NBA, we get it. Can’t even imagine doing, really. Mens basketball has been around longer, so naturally women are playing “catch up.” If the women didn’t imagine doing the things that the men do now, the women’s game would have never improved. Instead of “the men do things that, at this point at least, the women can’t even imagine doing” how about they do things that you don’t see in the women’s game. The young kids out there now male or female are imagining doing what the NBA stars are doing now in the finals. All it takes is for that kid male or female to make it happen.

  • Lebran

    Best thing to come out of this article: I earn more money than Candace Parker.

    No wonder she married a baller.

  • Clay Kallam

    Actually, Parker’s annual earning potential is $250,000 and up, if she plays in Europe. But having married an NBA benchwarmer, she doesn’t need to spend the winter in Russia unless she wants to.

  • Ace

    Parker got offered 1 million and change to play less than the whole season for her Russian team. Plus her deal with Gatorade and Addidas. Each worth at least a mil. It came out in an article around her rookie year. She doesn’t need her husbands millions she’s got her own.

  • Clay Kallam

    I don’t know if Parker could get a million now — the Russian mobster who spent a lot of that money was assasinated, and the salary scales in Europe have been dropping the last couple years.

    Still, if Parker committed for an entire season, playoffs included, she probably could get at least $500,000.

  • Ace

    She already signed the contract she just had to wait a year later to play b/c she was pregnant. She got her money, but the team unfortunately had to wait till next season. The guy that got killed was the owner of Spartak. CP does not play for Spartak, she plays for UMMC EKATERINBURG.

  • D12FSU

    the WNBA whould lower the rims to 8.5 feet…get some more dunks in there…..they can reach 7.5ft, right?

  • Clay Kallam

    And what would be the point of more dunks? Is the only reason the NBA is the best league in the world is dunks?

    And speaking of that, what was more exciting last night? Jordan Farmar’s barely over the rim two-hander or Ray Allen’s three-point shooting? The dunks by Bynum or Rondo’s high-arching layup?

  • thisgirlsballin

    BY the way Candace Parker dunked twice in one game as a college freshman. And she could take on most guys..
    http://stacktv.stack.com/video.aspx?videoID=57951790001_563

  • thisgirlsballin
  • Clay Kallam

    No doubt Candace Parker can take on most guys, but a lot of those guys can dunk better than she can. In fact, a lot of guys down on the playground can dunk better than NBA players — but so what?

    Basketball is mainly about winning, and dunking contributes to that because it’s a very high-percentage shot, and it also can turn momentum. But compared to most other basketball skills, it’s just not that critical.

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