Why the WNBA doesn’t deserve to be the target of so many hacky jokes.
I’m as guilty as anyone of ripping on the WNBA. I’ve made all the jokes… i.e. “The WNBA playoffs are going on? Man I hope one of the players lands a one-handed breakaway dunk to seal the best-of-one series!” In one past 11 Points I compared the WNBA to the female condom when listing men’s products that shouldn’t have been converted to female products.
I’m not alone in this. Everyone does it. The WNBA is a universally ripped on sports league. I’ll delve more into my thoughts behind that mindset toward the end of this list (when I get all South Park head-up-my-own-ass preachy on you).
But for now, I’d like to take some time today, during the WNBA Finals, to tell you why you need to give the WNBA a break. I’m not saying you should become a fan — hell, I’m not going to start tuning in to their games anytime soon — but I’m saying that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start ganging up on a new piece of low hanging fruit. (Ickleback-nay?)
Here are 11 reasons why you… and by you, I mean guys… should stop dumping on the WNBA.
1 | No, you couldn’t beat any of them in one-on-one
There’s an episode of South Park where Cartman decides to pose as a mentally handicapped kid to win the Special Olympics. But when he starts competing, a quick truth comes out: He’s fat and out-of-shape and the real mentally handicapped kids aren’t… so they beat the hell out of him in every event.
I don’t make that analogy to say that the WNBA players are the equivalent of Special Olympians… I’m saying you’re the equivalent of Cartman. (And so am I.)
The vast, vast majority of guys are fatter, slower and in way worse shape than WNBA players. These are professional athletes. They train like professional athletes. They work with the strength and conditioning coaches who train professional athletes.
They also play basketball every single day. They shoot thousands of jump shots and get tips from world class coaches every single day. They do ballhandling, defense, shooting drills every single day. You do not.
If you played a WNBA player one-on-one, your manliness might — might — be worth one or two baskets… and that’s if you get ultra-physical like when Mac plays Dee in basketball in It’s Always Sunny. Beyond that, she’d drill jump shots over you all day long.
But I’m sure you would beat the hell out of her in Halo.
2 | The players aren’t universally unattractive — not even close
There are a few lists around the Internet of the 10 (cowardly number!) hottest WNBA players.
(My personal favorite is this one on Uncoached where the guy picks nine white players then reluctantly includes Swin Cash as his 10th but has the caption “I’m not a huge fan but people seem to dig it, so there you go.” I mean, come on, guy. First of all, don’t refer to the one black girl on your list as an “it.” And second of all, at least take a lesson from every season in the history of The Bachelor and pretend one black girl is a serious contender.)
Truth is, I researched this plenty, and there are plenty of WNBA players who are attractive. The league may not be stocked with supermodels, but there are plenty of good looking women. (Especially if you’re not trying to re-segregate the water fountains like the Uncoached guy.)
The problem, I think, stems from the fact that basketball requires women to eschew looking pretty for being game-ready. This means: Hair tucked away, make-up off, no leotard or little skirt or bikini, mouth guard. Some of the women clean up really, really well.
And at the end of the day, there’s no one in the WNBA who’s even close to as ugly as Sam Cassel, Joakim Noah, Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman or Scottie Pippen. Not. Even. Close.
3 | The scoring isn’t as low as you think
This year, the Phoenix Mercury (the top scoring team) averaged 92.8 points per game. That’s in a 40-minute game. The New York Liberty (the low scoring team — see, *all* of New York’s pro basketball teams suck right now!) averaged 73.9points per 40-minute game.
To compare that to the NBA’s 48-minute game, the Mercury’s PPG converts to 111.36 points per 48 minutes; the Liberty’s converts to 88.69 points per 48 minutes.
Last year in the NBA, the highest scoring team, the Phoenix Suns, scored 109.4 points per game. The lowest scoring team, the Charlotte Bobcats, averaged 93.6.
You’ll notice that there’s not much difference between the totals. I was reluctant to compare it to the NBA (because of my next point) but it’s worthwhile in this particular instance. I’ve watched one WNBA game in my life so I don’t know this anecdotally but these stats don’t lie: WNBA players put up points.
4 | It doesn’t compare to the NBA because it shouldn’t
I think the WNBA suffers because (1) it’s pro basketball and (2) beyond that, the letters “NBA” are jammed right there into its name.
As basketball has grown, the game has splintered, almost like branches of a religion.
The NBA game isn’t quite the same as the international game (which is why the Dream Teams aren’t guaranteed winners at the Olympics anymore). The college game looks different than both of those. Playground ball looks different than that. The And 1 Mixtape tour has a guy with a mic on the court screaming “Ohh baby! Tha Professor! Ohh baby!” while a guy spends 15 minutes dribbling the ball between his opponents legs before he throws an alley-oop that connects one out of 15 times.
The point here: The WNBA is different than the NBA. I’m not going to give you a bunch of politically correct garbage about “purity” and “fundamentals” and “playing for the love of the game” — that’s what Michael Wilbon is for. I will offer this: The WNBA is at its best when it embraces its unique strengths, and at its worst when it does things to invite the comparison to the NBA.
It’s embarrassing when the WNBA makes a big deal out of a dunk… which is a one-handed breakaway dunk that your standard eighth grade male basketball player can now do. It’s embarrassing that a lot of the teams have glombed their names off the men’s franchises in their city (Sacramento Monarchs, et. al.).
What the WNBA has: Hard-working players who make the same salaries as most of the fans… players who actually have mid-range game… plenty of close games with clutch endings… $20 tickets for good seats… and even some budding superstars. If you’re going to watch it, watch it for that… don’t sit and wait for an NBA game to break out, because it’s not going to.
5 | The “We got next” campaign sneaked into your subconscious
When they debuted those “We got next” commercials more than a decade ago, you watched them — we didn’t have TiVo back then. And now, admit it: At some point, you’ve inadvertently uttered that catchphrase.
That’s no more embarrassing than the other night when my girlfriend brought me a roast beef sandwich from Subway and, because of their ever-growing, offensive bread-to-meat ratio I inadvertently said, “Where’s the beef?”
6 | Because there’s such thing as a “Did Not Play – Pregnant” in the box score… and that’s awesome
There were a few times when Shawn Kemp was on the Cavaliers that he got so fat I thought he was pregnant. (Turns out he wasn’t, but was responsible for tons and tons of women being so.)
Didn’t love that joke? I got another one!
It’s got to be hard to build a roster knowing your superstar could get knocked up at any moment… you’ve always got to have Plan B ready to go.
7 | It’s not hemorrhaging money like you think — not even close
For the first several years, the WNBA was losing around $12 million a year. Which sounds bad, until you think about the league not as an NBA spinoff but as its own entity — success takes time. Building a fan base takes time. Getting a foothold takes time.
Most upstart sports leagues XFL themselves after one or two seasons because they don’t have the money to weather that building period. The NBA’s unwavering (and pretty damn brave) support of the WNBA let it take the time it needed.
And in an interview back in March, NBA commissioner David Stern dropped this bombshell: “The NBA is [now] far less profitable than the WNBA. We’re losing a lot of money amongst a large number of teams. We’re budgeting the WNBA to break even this year.”
8 | One woman won the league MVP then promptly posed naked
Now how many NBA MVPs do you want to see naked? (Other than maybe Karl Malone — Bill Walton did once say that Karl Malone “has one of the greatest physiques in the history of mankind.”)
9 | The playoffs aren’t endless
I love the Cleveland Cavs. I have for my whole life. Remember when Michael Jordan hit that effing shot over Craig Ehlo? Yeah… I’d become a die-hard Cavs fan about six months earlier. Awesome.
Anyway, as much as I love them (and realize that, for the foreseeable future, they’re Cleveland’s ONLY shot at winning its first pro sports title since the ’60s), even I find the NBA playoffs to be farcically slow. FOUR best-of-seven rounds spread out over two-plus months — that’s not playoffs, that’s a Baseketball-esque second season.
Well the WNBA Playoffs started on September 16th and will end no later than October 9th. Say what you will about three rounds and best-of-five series… but that certainly sounds like a more reasonable playoff run.
10 | It’s not going anywhere
David Stern doesn’t care about you. (Unless you’re a basketball fan in China, in which case he cares a ton.)
At some point, the WNBA evolved into David Stern’s “Eff You” project — in the face of criticism, bashing and non-stop derisive jokes from basketball fans and every level of sports writer alike, Stern kept pushing the WNBA through with a smile on his face.
Now, it’s stopped losing money, it’s got a real television contract (ABC and ESPN2 now, no more games on Lifetime and Oxygen), it’s got some budding stars, it’s got a dedicated fan base… it’s here, and it’s staying here.
You couldn’t beat it. No one could. Once again, David Stern owned you. And he just continues to establish his foothold as one of the scariest human beings in the business world.
11 | On some level, your dislike is rooted in latent sexism
OK. Here’s my final message on this subject.
Lots of people make sexist jokes. I make sexist jokes. (Three days ago in my post 11 Things Google Should Atone For On Its 11th Anniversary I made a sexist joke.) But, jokes aside, people have universally come a long, long way from the sexism of the Mad Men era. I’ve had female bosses in most of my jobs in my life, and it has never struck me as strange. I’ve never treated them different than I would a male boss. And no one I know would do so either. For our entire lives, men and women have been totally and completely equal, and we never even think to question that.
There aren’t many times in pop society when institutionalized prejudice is OK. Outside of edgy-ish jokes, a person who has some prejudice isn’t going to express it publicly very often… at least not without being appropriately branded as and chastised for that behavior. (I’ve participated in that public chastising repeatedly on this website, from my 11 Unbelievably Insensitive (and Often Racist) Holiday Advertisements list to my 11 Fascinating Donors on California’s anti-gay marriage Prop 8 list.)
As I researched a WNBA list last night (I had no idea what the subject was going to be, just that I wanted to do a WNBA list), I read countless blog entries, articles, major sports columns, and (shudder) message board comments about the WNBA. I read the Sports Guy’s countless WNBA jabs, including “Two ideas for [WNBA] t-shirts: ‘EXPECT LAYUPS’ or ‘We Got Next. .. to Fold After The AFL.'”
I read Jay Mohr’s guest column for SI.com where he commented that “Little girls and lumberjacks seemed to be the primary ticket holders.”
I read Spike.com’s Nine Ways to Make the WNBA Slightly Less Terrible article, which includes lines like “Fun half-time games – These could include fan favorites like ‘Guess who’s post-op.'” I don’t even need to post what the message boards say to finish painting this picture.
About 15 minutes in, it finally dawned on me what was happening here. Wailing on the WNBA is a societally-accepted way to unleash your deep-seeded, subconscious sexism.
You’re ripping on the quality of the play (Simmons), the lack of athleticism, the absence of dunks… and, even more insidiously, the heavily lesbian WNBA fan base (Mohr), the manliness of some of the players (Spike) and the five-figure salaries.
Underlying each and every point, though, is the inescapable message, however unintended: Here’s a job that both men and women are doing, and the women suck at it compared to the men. A major columnist couldn’t get away with saying that about, say, men and women CEOs (I did it satirically here). Men and women bankers. Men and women writers. Men and women teachers.
But you can say it here — “Men are better than women!” So people do. With an unwarranted amount of passion. These aren’t WNBA fans, these are people who’ve never (or maybe once) watched a game. The level of disgust is completely disproportional to the effect the WNBA has on your life. Maybe 90 seconds out of a 90-minute SportsCenter, a barely-visible link on the top ESPN.com, a blurb six pages deep into the sports section of the newspaper, and bumping rodeos or the 2003 World Series of Poker from ESPN2 for a night… that’s not close to enough to inspire the verbal bile the WNBA is constantly splattered with.
Yes, man-versus-woman comparisons will be eternally inescapable for the NBA-versus-WNBA debate. I’m not saying I’m better than it either — this is a comedy website, this list was written from a satirical viewpoint as kind of an open letter to men, so two of my above points dealt with attractiveness/nudity. Those wouldn’t be there if I was comparing, say, the NBA versus NCAA basketball.
But it’s worth noting, and worth thinking about. There’s a song in the Broadway musical Avenue Q called Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist and it comes to mind here. Just because you rip on the WNBA doesn’t mean you’re filled with raging, deep-seeded misogyny… but maybe it means you’ve got a little. Just like, I guess, everyone.
And just like this list isn’t trying to convert you into a WNBA fan — again, just because I wrote this entire thing doesn’t mean I’m going to start watching the games — I’m also not trying to get you to start spelling woman with a “y” or to seek therapy for a modicum of subconscious sexism. But it made ME think about some hint of prejudice that, perhaps, does sit deep down inside me. And I think it’s worthwhile to take 10 seconds for a personal audit, to at least acknowledge that you might have the same.
Or, at the very, very least, maybe I’ll get you to join me in my fight against generic “comedy”… I mean, all this talk of latent misogyny aside, making jokes about the WNBA is the sports equivalent of asking “What’s the deal with airline food?”
Because when it comes to both hidden sexism AND making played out jokes, I can safely say: You’re better than that.