About two weeks ago I went to a Seattle Storm- Phoenix Mercury game with Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko.com and we had some extended conversations about his thoughts about the WNBA.
Today, Shoals (finally) posted his first-hand account of the WNBA on the Sporting News and did a great job of transforming my description of our conversation into a more coherent argument in support of the WNBA, in addition to challenging the dominant assumptions that NBA fans might hold. An excerpt:
As far as I can tell, WNBA players can't jump, run or throw their weight around like their male counterparts. And they do play a more technically adept game. But they are also seriously skilled, in ways that college (amateur) athletes are not, for simple reasons of arithmetic. Both guards handle the ball and run the offense; big men—er, women—post up all over the place, regularly pass off the ball, and reliably hit jumpers like it's expected of them; everyone cuts like crazy, keeping up a level of activity that at some point is bound to outstrip or shed the coach's instructions.It's definitely worth a read and I think it provides further insight into how the WNBA could be marketed in ways that appeal to NBA fans.
It's less a diminished version of the NBA than a mutant strain of it, not unlike various incarnations of Nellieball or D'Antoni Land. It might be even a more sophisticated form of basketball than either the NBA status quo or men's college ball, which it pretty much makes a mockery of when it comes to both style and content. I don't know enough about European ball to draw that analogy with confidence, but there might be a family resemblance there.
It also reminded me quite a bit of the NBA of the 1960s, at least in the non-differentiated guard and forward positions, emphasis on movement and cutting, and varied offensive sets. Maybe it wasn't by accident that Bill Russell was at the game that night. Yes, he's a friend of Mercury GM Ann Meyers, but he's also on record as being a fan of the WNBA's style of play. And when Russell first entered the league, it had just discovered the shot-clock and was finally developing an identity apart from college ball that was to its benefit. A decade-plus down the road, the WNBA players not only have gotten better, they also have a better idea of what makes their league unique.
It's not making nebulous pleas to just "expect great" -- it actually makes a case for why WNBA basketball is worth watching, opening up the black box that the WNBA's marketing scheme created...and assuming that those insistent on making sexist assumptions about the WNBA won't be convinced anyway.
So after reading his piece, I wonder (again), what could the WNBA hypothetically take from perspectives such as Shoals' to think about how to market the league?