Tuesday, September 6, 2005
By Bill Simmons
Part One: In support of the column
Liked your article on the WNBA. I would throw in one more point about the low attendance and miniscule TV ratings: Women do not watch sports. I know plenty of women who talk endlessly of Title IX, but when an opportunity comes to support women's athletics (in Pittsburgh, Pitt & Duquesne women's hoops, as well as the odd U.S. soccer exhibition), they are nowhere to be found. The only time the Pitt women's hoops team "sells out" a home game is when the UConn women come to town and they sell tickets for $1. The U.S. soccer exhibition, which included Hamm, Foudy, and Chastain in one of their final matches, drew less than 5,000 in 65,000-seat Heinz Field. Until women follow sports as fanatically as men, leagues such as the WNBA or WUSA will continue to flounder.
-- John, Pittsburgh
My theory is that Stern is pushing the WNBA just to show fans how bad basketball can really be played, then he'll really start pimping the NBA again with lines like "If you liked the WNBA, you'll love watching a team that can play for real." I can even see the new tagline as: "NBA basketball, here we can actually dunk!" By throwing the WNBA under the bus, he might actually get some interest back in the NBA.
-- T.M. Jackson, Bismarck, N.D.
You forgot something: The casual fan base just doesn't care about this sport. Two guys might get out of work from Wall Street decide to grab some beers and chicken wings and then might decide to try to scalp tickets to a Knick game. No way two women get out of work from an advertising agency, decide to get a couple of cosmos and then go to a Liberty game. And this isn't just a WNBA thing. Women in general do not do stuff like this.
-- Eric, New York
A surefire way to pique interest with the WNBA ... change the rules! Stop pretending that it's an NBA game and start realizing that it's a totally different sport. This should all start with lowering the rim. Think about it, what does the NBA offer that the WNBA doesn't? "Above the rim action." Why should women play with the same size rim as men do when they already play with a smaller ball and can't possibly jump as high or be as strong. This not only would solve the issue of not being able to dunk, but would provide a surprising amount of "unintentional comedy." Think about it, who wouldn't want to have that element added to the game? It's like women's boxing, the pure comedy of watching a woman try and throw a left hook with oversized gloves is hilarious... the same goes for the WNBA. I guarantee this would spark some interest in the WNBA. Not only would it be beneficial to scoring, but instantly supply the dying sport with some excitement, and perhaps a little unintentional comedy!
-- Kevin, Columbus, Ohio
I live in Seattle and last year they had a "parade" to celebrate the Seattle Storm's WNBA Championship. I quote the word "parade" for three reasons:
1. No one in the city was aware that the celebration was occurring. People were on the streets bewildered, wondering why the streets were being closed at noon. Include me in that group; I was unaware the Storm had won the title until I saw the "parade."
2. Since a city such as Seattle has only had one major championship (the Sonics in 1979), doesn't the fact that hardly anyone knew or cared that the Storm won prove that WNBA is a joke?
3. The "parade" consisted of two Chrysler Sebring Convertibles. That is it. Not a Dodge Stratus to be seen.
-- Chris B., Seattle
I've had the perfect idea for to increase interest for the WNBA for a few years now. It's like my many other ideas tossed aside (airplanes with parachutes, selling a DVD with videos instead of CDs, which by the way is starting to happen) by a society which refuses to let a short, stocky (though not yet bald) man with glasses succeed. How about we put WNBA players in really, really, really tight short shorts? Now who wouldn't want to see that? Or what about uniforms like the Australian Women's Olympic team a few years ago? And yes, I am a pig and I will probably be sleeping on the couch tonight if my wife sees this. Peace out, player!
-- Jon R., Red Lake, Minn.
The WNBA could be successful if they force each team to add one fairly talented athletic male with limited basketball skills to each team. This would add a lot of excitement to the league as the male would date tons of players on his own team, thus forcing the ownership to trade away ex-girlfriends he no longer gets along with. It would start cat fights in the league. The league would follow this format until the playoffs, when one team was drawn at random and only that team was allowed to keep their male player. I would tune into watch this male dominate the women.
-- Steve, South Porcupine, Ontario
Do you think that the NBA's ratings would be closer to the WNBA's ratings if their season ran all summer? To me, any indoor sport in the summer is a bad idea. Seventy-five percent of the country has 42 weeks of crappy weather -- winter, rainy spring, cold fall, and 10 weeks of nice weather. Could you actually convince anyone north of Atlanta to sit indoors for three hours watching anything between June 15 and Labor Day? I'm not saying the WNBA is a good product and a victim of good weather / bad timing, just that I'd probably be more likely to bring my daughters to an indoor sport in January. If I'm taking them anywhere in July, it's Pawtucket or Portland.
-- Bob T, Boston
Nice work on the WNBA column today. It was a great combination of honesty and humor (especially since you didn't drag down the column by going for the easy jokes). The only thing I can add is that it's extremely annoying to see chicks celebrating like dudes. It's annoying enough to see dudes acting like dudes (and this is coming from a guy who chest-bumped his wife when he got on the video board at a Clippers game.)
-- Lucien, Newport Beach, Calif.
There was one glaring omission, which I have always felt really sums up the WNBA. Remember a few summers ago when some player rose about 0.1 inches above the rim and threw down the ugliest dunk in the history of roundball? And they STOPPED THE GAME TO CELEBRATE? I mean, think about the fact that they treated this like it was McGwire's 62nd home run. Honestly! And then after the game the coach whose name I don't know, of the team whose name I don't know (who lost, by the way), dropped this gem on us: "People say they don't watch the WNBA because there is no dunking ... well I guess we showed them!" (pause for dramatic effect) IT WAS ONE DUNK! One hideous, poor excuse for an athletic accomplishment. I remember seeing that and wanting more than anything to be at that press conference so I could point out the obvious fact that one ugly dunk will not trigger some floodgate of female dunking to burst open, in turn spawning a nationwide obsession with this "sport."
-- Jonah, N.J.
During the offseason, Katie Smith plays pick-up at the same gym as I. Don't get me wrong, she's not bad. If you leave her open, she's usually knocking it down. But any decent athlete locks her down, and she's the ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER IN LEAGUE HISTORY. A handful of the regulars play or played college hoops, none higher than Div. III, but these are not the guys guarding her or being guarded by her. The guys who guard her are the "average" players. Again, just wanted to give you some ammo for the inevitable "some of those players could start for some Div. I teams" e-mails that you receive.
You were spot-on in your comments about the long overdue plug-pulling of the WNBA, but you missed one key point that frustrates me to no end. THEY USE A SMALLER BALL!!! Isn't the size ratio of the ball to the hoop a critical aspect of the game. Imagine the scores with a real ball -- "The Lynx win 18-14 shooting a league-high 12 percent from the field."
-- Nick, Minneapolis
They should fold the entire league and form one team using only the premier players in the league. This team would be like a woman's Harlem Globetrotters, only they would travel to different cities playing exhibition games against all levels of male competition. They could play the premier high school teams of the area, or Div. III JV all-star squads. It would be like a circus. "Come see if the WNBA All-Stars can compete with St. Anthony's of N.J." Now I would pay good money to see that. Although once they started getting crushed by every team with more than two guys with verticals better than 10", be prepared for more of the "this is a sad day for women's sports quotes." I think I am a little more bothered by these WNBA commercials than I first realized.
-- Scott, Philadelphia
I've always thought you were unfairly harsh to the WNBA and wondered what you had against it, why you had such a passion to point out that most people don't enjoy it. It's always bothered me because I thought you were wrong, then I saw that Cleveland no longer has a team and hasn't had one for two years now, and I'm just finding this out.
-- Steve M., Kent, Ohio
Just read your take on the WNBA. I thought the following story was the best way to sum up the relevance of the league. I now live in Atlanta, but spent the vast majority of my live in the Cleveland area. It wasn't until I read your article that I realized the Cleveland franchise had moved out of town two years ago.
-- Brian F., Atlanta
Do you have any friends (that aren't professional athletes) that you think could beat Maria Sharapova or Annika Sorenstam on any given Sunday? Or out-sprint Marion Jones? Do you think you could get five of your friends together and beat a WNBA team? This is why the WNBA is not as popular as other women's professional sports. Maybe the Liberty could beat my old high school team. But I doubt it ... we all do.
--Sugar, Las Vegas
How I miss the days of the ABL. We were almost a cult following. The teams had regional players, the arenas were the right size to pack to the rafters. And we didn't have David Stern to mess up the program. I lived in Columbus and was present at the '97 Game 5 to see our beloved Quest knock off Richmond in a thriller. The ABL was something to be proud of. The WNBA is a knockoff bully (and poor at that) with big bucks. BTW: The Quest averaged 80.0 points and was second in the ABL in '97-98. Last year, the highest WNBA scoring average was 73.47.
-- Scott G., Wichita, Kansas
I served a mission for the Mormon church for two years in Georgia, and as part of the mission, we weren't supposed to listen to the radio or watch TV for those 2 years. I am a huge basketball and baseball fan and coincidentally a Utah Jazz fan and the only two years they made the Finals, it was the two years I was on my mission. I was approaching the end of my two years which I served between 96-98 and was just dying to watch anything sports. Well, we were in a restaurant and there was a WNBA basketball game on and I thought well at least it is basketball, and started to watch it during dinner. Three minutes later, I asked my friend if I could trade him seats so I didn't have to even accidentally glance at the TV screen. It was so painful to watch. And I still to this day contend that even a decent boys' high school team could beat any WNBA team 98% of the time.
-- Brent B., Las Vegas
I used to watch the women's games when I was at Purdue, not because I like the game, but because I wanted to support my school. I think what a lot of people don't realize is that we don't hate women's sports, we just don't want to be force-fed them all the time. The WNBA has not paid any dues to get to the level of marketing and prominence in the news that it has reached. They wouldn't even have a deal if the NBA didn't force it on the TV. The WNBA would have been a lot better served if they would have just left it as what it is, a small league with a niche group of fans.
-- Chris, Indianapolis
I just finished your column on the WNBA and I agree with you almost 100%. However, I do think there is a way that the WNBA would be able to improve the league -- lower the rims by a foot and a half. This would help the WNBA improve its dunk ratio from 1 awkward dunk a year or less to plenty of dunks per game and more excitement. A professional basketball league can't stick around when its most exciting play is a fast-break layup. I believe lowering the rims could improve the league from being the worst thing on television. What do you think?
-- Joe, Brooklyn, Ohio
You're forgetting one other thing about the WNBA. The season. I actually have liked some of the games I've seen, unlike you. But I haven't seen much. Why? Because who thinks of basketball in July? I mean, come on -- I'm gonna go looking for WNBA games when the Red Sox are on every night? No, I am not. I wonder if the WNBA would have been better received if they somehow tied it into the NBA season. Not doubleheaders or anything like that. But some sort of arena-trading. Trading off nights. Something like that. We're used to basketball as a winter sport, not summer. I think that's hurt the WNBA.
-- Frank D., Peabody, Mass.
You are completely right about the WNBA. Outside of reality TV, if I'm watching TV, I want the person who is either acting or playing sports to be able to preform better than me. I don't want to watch a sitcom and be funnier than the actors. That is what is wrong with the WNBA. I'm on an average high school basketball team and we could absolutely wipe the floor with any WNBA team out there. No doubt in my mind. Thanks for stepping up to the plate and addressing this issue to America.
-- Chris D, Lexington, Ky.
Wow, reading your article on the WNBA was like watching your friend tell an overweight girl that she looks hideous in that short, mid-drift-baring tank top. You know the backlash will be bitter and possibly lead to a swift kick in the gonads, but the truth remains -- it needed to be said. I commend you -- Bill Simmons -- for taking that risk.
-- Alan B, Lawrence, Kansas
Enjoyed your latest column on the WNBA. I am afraid to watch NBA games because my 4-year-old daughter may come in the room, realize there is a WNBA, and force me to go to a game.
-- Steve, Logan, Utah
I work for the Mohegan Sun, the casino that owns the Connecticut Sun. I would appreciate you not mentioning my name in any commentary that you may publish. I agree with you 100 percent when it comes to the WNBA. I am pretty familiar with the WNBA and their financial situation. If there was any state in the union where you would think that the WNBA would have a chance, it would be Connecticut. Not so. We practically give the tickets away to employees to get people to go. The pro forma that was done with the acquisition of the team showed a loss for the next 10 years at least. In addition, in reviewing the documents provided by the NBA prior to acquisition, the following quote was one that caught my eye ... "The WNBA is hemorrhaging cash" ... OUCH! Why did we buy it? Promotional opportunity.
Can we stop being politically correct in trying to provide equal sports opportunity to women when the overwhelming majority of them could care less? The only reason that the WNBA ever came into existence was the brief interest in the women's game when UConn and Tennessee had their little rivalry, when Rebecca Lobo was the big star. Do you remember the talk back then of Lobo playing in the NBA? Where are the idiots who said that now? They have opened Pandora's box and can't close it. If they shut it down, feminist and equal opportunists would be screaming bloody murder. This is America! Nothing is equal. That is what capitalism is all about. When are people going to figure out that you can't have it both ways.
-- Anonymous, Uncasville, Conn
I was surprised that you skipped one obvious point about the WNBA. Does it bother you that all the advocates of the league's pure fundamentals and below-the-rim play are white sportswriters shorter than 5-foot-10? I don't see Scoop Jackson or Bill Walton writing glowing columns about the league. For the average sportswriter, the WNBA is like some fantasy where their rec league was elevated to professional status. The fact that the average WNBA player has the same body shape as the average weekend warrior probably only enhances the illusion.
-- Joseph, New York
Why doesn't the NBA just have the WNBA play their games as the "undercard" of NBA games? They can raise ticket prices $5, and Dads can bring their sons and daughters to TWO games for the price of ONE. Hey, while they're at it, why doesn't the NBA start a minor league and have them also play in the undercard. We could pay $15 more per ticket, but we could watch a 9-minute quarter WNBA game, a 10-minute quarter NBAAA game, and a NBA game. Gimme the keys, Stern. I can drive this boat.
-- Greg, Boston
Great article about the WNBA. You made your points and presented the facts in a professional and definitive manner. I have two questions for you ... 1) How many death threats did Christine Brennan send you and 2) What was the most interesting way she told you she was going to kill you?
-- Kyle Bellew, Williamsburg, Pa.
A couple of years ago, some friends and I decided to purchase a 10 game plan to the Wizards. The options were $45 seats or $75 seats. We chose the $45 seats; $450 per seat/per plan. We were told by the team that the $75 seats were still available --- for $1000 per seat/per plan. What?! Shouldn't they be $750? No. The extra $250 (which you were REQUIRED to pay for) was in flex-Mystics tickets. Ten $25 tickets, or 2 $125, etc. We all agreed that those seats could've been on the Wizards bench and we still wouldn't have done it on principle alone.
-- Matt Graham, Fairfax, Va.
Back in 1997, during my freshman year at Virginia, a few of my friends spent the occasional afternoon at the gym playing some hoops. We're not super athletes or Division I hopefuls by any means -- we're just a bunch of guys who loved the game enough to get up and go play it from time to time when it wasn't on TV. Well, one afternoon, a young lady came into the gym and called next to run with the next team. Nobody ever had any problem with this sort of thing. Anyone who ever wanted to play was cool with us. When her team got on the court, she started playing her heart out. She chased after loose balls, she always kept her palms up on defense, she always made the extra effort to rebounds, etc., but, when all was said and done, her team lost. It wasn't exactly her fault -- we thought she played just fine. Of the 10 of us, she was probably only the ninth best player on the court, but we couldn't fault her for effort.
That night, one of my friends from the game started ranting about how much better men are at basketball. According to him, even the best women in the world couldn't hold a flame to a high school-level male basketball player. This set me off, and he and I got into a furious argument about the whole thing. I argued that he couldn't say that because he had never even seen the best women in the world playing, and that, if he actually got on the court with one, she might send him home embarrassed.
About a month later, he and I sat down to watch a game from the inaugural season of the WNBA. About 5 minutes into the game, the lady that we had just played with at the gym checked in off the bench for the Cleveland Rockers. And I never watched a complete WNBA game again.
To me, the fundamental problem is that the women's sports leagues/organizations, including the LPGA, WNBA, professional softball, etc., want us not only to embrace their sports, but at face value: they want to convince us that the competition, ability, and entertainment value of these athletes is good enough to pay for, right now. As long as it suffers in comparison to the men playing the same games, it isn't going to happen, unless they become a little more, uh, photogenic. I know I stop my remote if women's beach volleyball is on, for a little while. Perhaps the WNBA should follow the AVP model: let all the players divvy up into two-woman teams, tour the country, and have them play on outdoor courts during the summer so they're motivated to wear a lot less. As for five-on-five, let them do that once every four years, at the Olympics, or some World Cup-style event.
-- Ed Peterson, Las Vegas
I found myself bored almost to tears by your WNBA rant. This is in no way a dig at your writing; it is simply a statement on the subject of the article. Even the take of my very favorite sports personality wasn't interesting or important enough to hold my attention for five consecutive minutes. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who felt this way. I don't know how many people will e-mail to tell you something similar to this, but I bet there will be quite a few. Why? Why do they continue to shove this garbage down our throats? Male basketball fans will never care about women's basketball when we can just wait a couple of months for the real thing to come back around. Anyway, I will remain a loyal member of SG Nation forever (unless this WNBA thing becomes the inspiration for daily 4,000 word columns -- then I may bail.) But I just found it so ironic that one of my favorite sports diversions ended up being such a turn-off when it involved that particular topic. Keep up the good work.
-- Mark Loyd
I especially loved your comments about the D2 intramural game. I played ball at a D2 school in Texas. I'm just a regular white guy who was very sound fundamentally, but I played pick-up games with Sheryl Swoopes when I was in high school and she was at Texas Tech. She hardly touched the ball because she couldn't keep up with the high school players and college frat guys. Even my wife would rather watch two high school teams she has never seen than another WNBA layup-fest.
-- James R., Waco, Texas
I love basketball. Love to play it, love to watch it, love to talk about it. I have two high school age daughters that play, and play well, and I love to watch them play. I love what Becky Hammon did for the Colorado State program, and I love the women's NCAA tournament. But the WNBA just can't hold my interest -- I turn it on and minutes, if not seconds, later I'm changing the channel. The games are too choppy, and you're right, the quality of play just isn't here. I don't really care if they can't dunk (as a matter of fact it would not bother me if they raised the hoop to 12 feet in the NBA). I love a well-executed pick and roll, a sweet no-look pass, deadly shooting, great man to man defense. I love the way Princeton plays, and there should be no reason why a well-coached women's team could not play that way.
But it seems to me that in the WNBA, the refs pretty much swallow their whistles, and the only way these ladies know how to play defense is to grab and hold. This destroys both the incentive and ability to run a slick passing game with backdoor cuts. It's the same thing we see with the zone trap in hockey, it destroys the continuity of the game. In my view, what they've done in the WNBA is remove the best element of the NBA, phenomenal athleticism, and kept the worst two things, crappy officiating and clutch and grab defense. There is no way to get even hard-core basketball fans to watch this stuff.
Here's my solution. Make the women prove that they belong on the national scene. Match them up (say, the Houston Comets) against a team comprised of marginal male players (ex-high school jocks, gym rats, Shawn Bradley) and make them prove me wrong. Televise it. Make it the modern day equivalent of Riggs vs. Billy Jean King. If they succeed at beating this level of talent, turn up the heat (high school varsity team, small D-3 team, Atlanta Hawks). Show the viewers that they should be regarded as elite athletes and not a group of women I believe my buddies from the local "Y" couldn't whoop in a game to 11.
One reason I'll occasionally keep the TV tuned to a women's softball game or tennis match is because I believe that they are truly better than most men. This makes for compelling TV, much in the same way that watching professional men's sports is intriguing. Once the WNBA players prove that they are better, I'll begin to take notice. But this will never happen. The WNBA has too much to lose. Or do they?
-- Squeeg22, Chicago