Thursday, May 3, 2018

Watch The WNBA, Y'All.

What we now think of as organized professional sports in North America (baseball excepted) began largely with at least some tenuous collegiate affiliation. *I use "official" in the following because history is a little murky on this stuff but these are consensus college-vs-college first match-ups and do not include prior intramural or informal games, etc.*: All of these are the first "formally recorded" in their respective sports: The first "official" American football game was between Princeton and Rutgers on November 6, 1869. The first "official" hockey game was played between members of the Victoria Skating Club, which included many McGill University students, on March 3, 1875. The first "official" men's basketball game was played between Hamline and the School of Agriculture (affiliated with the University of Minnesota) on February 9, 1895.

And the first "official" women's basketball game was Stanford vs. Cal at The Armory in San Francisco. The date was April 4, 1896.

Which is to say: if someone tells you they don't follow women's basketball because it lacks the historical gravitas and lineage of its male counterpart, you can tell them to fuck right off.

Even if you're the most cursory sports fan, you undoubtedly caught Sports Center highlights from the Final Four of this year's Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament. At the very least, you saw clips of: the all-time behemoth UCONN Huskies going down in overtime to Notre Dame.  Mississippi State blitzing past an incredible Louisville squad, also in overtime. And the absolutely incendiary final minutes of the Championship Game; especially Arike Ogunbowale's insane buzzer beater to clinch the title for Muffet McGraw's Irish squad.

This shit was straight-up electric. It was the hair-raising and gasp-inducing reason we watch sports in the first place. We had apex players going outside their minds even by their own ridiculous standards. We had unlikely saviors perpetrating subtle brilliance. We had ecstasy and heartbreak and the sheer wonder of a beautiful game played at the highest possible level.

In the women's pro game, we've had an equally explosive run over the past few seasons. People talk about how the recent Cavs/Warriors feud in the last three NBA Finals has echoed the Lakers/Celtics rivalry that sustained and grew the league before Jordan came along and turned basketball into a global phenomenon and the NBA into a ratings juggernaut. The epic WNBA Sparks vs. Lynx Finals the past two seasons has been every bit the captivating clash of those NBA battles. Two teams absolutely stacked with legendary talents have waged epic battles and compiled a truckload of incredible moments. From Maya Moore to Sylvia Fowles to Lindsay Whalen to Nneka Oguwumike to Candace Parker to Kristi Tolliver, the WNBA Finals has been chock-full of badasses. It has been some of the most compelling television of any kind I've watched over the past couple of years.

Which is to say: If someone tells you the don't like women's basketball because the storylines and stars aren't compelling enough, you can tell them to fuck right off.

Do you like basketball? Do you like good basketball? Do you enjoy players filling the wings on the break and crisp passing and beautifully designed half-court sets and immaculate shooting and crafty handles and defenses rotating on a string? Do you enjoy personality and joy and verve and hustle and pure improvisational artistry? Do you really really love a monstrous dunk thrown down with emphatic sauce and malice? Yeah, women's hoops has you covered and then some.

Which is to say: If someone tells you they don't like women's basketball because they don't think "those girls" can play with the same athleticism, or that they like the men's game better because it's played more "above the rim": you can tell them to fuck right off.

If they insist on arguing, tell them to go talk that shit to Sue Bird or Candace Parker or Diana Taurasi or Chiney Ogumwike or Angel McCoughtry or Brittney Griner. Tell them you'll wait. Then laugh at them when they come back.

 (Brief aside: the NBA playoffs are rolling right now, and they are spectacular and please don't think I'm writing this to denigrate the NBA, I fucking love the NBA so much, but ALSO ALSO ALSO AND THIS IS SO GREAT AND WONDERFUL AND IMPORTANT AND AWESOME: THE WNBA SEASON TIPS ON MAY 18!!!!!!!!!!!!)

In a recent press conference, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (who by extension also kind of controls the WNBA as they operate under the same auspices) had some thoughts about the problems facing the women's pro game. 

Silver floated the possibility of shifting the WNBA season to coincide with the NBA and collegiate basketball seasons. The incomparable Katie Barnes clapped back in style: 

"Would having the WNBA’s season run during the fall and winter help improve the league’s profitability? That’s a question NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he contemplates, according to an interview Friday on ESPN’s “Get Up.”
“It’s been harder to get people to come to the games,” Silver said. “It may be because the games are in the summer. One of the things we’ve talked about is do we need to shift to the so-called more natural basketball season sort of in the fall and winter?”
It’s not a new thought. Traditionally the idea goes as follows: Summer is for swimming and flip flops; it’s for running outside, not lacing up high tops or sitting in dark arenas. And there’s some truth to that argument.
But the WNBA would need to vastly restructure its compensation agreements with players for this thought to ever gain traction."
Then Silver stated his concerns that not enough young women were watching the league, and thus the next generation were not being inspired to keep balling. 

Former WNBA MVP and multi-year All Star Elena Delle Donne clapped back in style on Twitter:


Silver, who I think has by-and-large done well after taking over for David Stern, really fucked up here. This is supposed to be the most progressive, welcoming sports league on earth, but he royally bricked this one. The primary argument is that the NBA wants to grow the popularity of the women's game, but can't invest the advertising revenue without an assured return on investment, but can't get a return without growing the audience and putting eyeballs on the TV and people in the seats in arenas, but can't invest the money because there aren't eyeballs and seats already invested ... 

He's created a sort of misogynistic ouroboros here. The league won't spend money to grow the women's game, and then expresses concern over the lack of growth thereof. It is dumb and ridiculous and disgusting. 

But, if you're reading this, there is a mutually beneficial solution. We don't have to wait for an onslaught of advertising or promotion to prompt us. If you weren't in already, let me tell you: there has never been a better possible moment than right now to get full-tilt invested in the WNBA. You want legends; historical Titans and Goddesses who have traced and defined the history of the league? Cool: Taurasi, Moore, MccCoughtry and Parker are still out here ballin'.  

You want up and coming geniuses who are defining and redefining the game? Let me direct your attention to Alisha Gray, Breanna Stewart, Layshia Clarendon, and a score of others.

You wanna get in on the ground floor of some spectacular and brand-new pro basketball careers? The most insanely stacked draft class possibly in the history of the game just entered the league. Remember that very very recent Final Four I mentioned above?  You wanna see a bunch of those Badass Women Of The Week (TM "Burn It All Down') take a leap to the next level? You can. They're here right now. 

The WNBA is, at this moment, absolutely loaded with mind-boggling talent. No matter who you're inclined to cheer for (and if you don't have a team by geographic affiliation, trust me one will stick out that you fall in love with anyway just from watching enough) there is AT LEAST one player per squad that will make you jump off your damn couch three times a game by doing something beyond the bounds of what us mere humans are capable of. This league is so overflowing with absolute transcendence at this precise moment. We are at the fulcrum of something indescribably beautiful and perfect and it will grab you by the nerve endings and make you a better and more joyous human just for watching if you let it.

And you can experience all of this.

If you live in a city with a team (or close enough), go see a game. Hell, go see ten games. Go get a season ticket package if you have the coin. If not, tune in on TV and online. If we put enough collective eyes on this wonderful league playing this beautiful game at a breathtaking and exhilarating level, the NBA will be forced to put the financial and promotional muscle behind it that is long overdue. WNBA League Pass is cheap (like, under $20) and will give you every game streaming live, up to four simultaneously in split-screen, with stats breakdowns and the whole analytical works on top of the actual broadcast. Even if you don't want to pay for that, there are a handful of TV broadcasts and about 30 games streaming absolutely free on Twitter.  

If you want to watch genius and athleticism and grace and brilliance and power, if you want to watch history and the future running the floor together on the break, if you want to revel in brilliance, there has never been a better time than right damn now. Watch the WNBA, y'all. Hop on this train with us. I promise you, you're gonna love this journey.