The WNBA & "The True Fan Card": Why We Need to Pay Less Attention to the Haters

. Friday, July 24, 2009
Make a comment!

Ben York who writes a Phoenix Mercury blog for recently wrote an article for Slam Magazine entitled, “Why You Need to Pay Attention to the WNBA”, taking a direct shot at readers who apparently double as WNBA haters and even assuring them that their “man-card won’t be revoked if you like it.”

*Note: I'm glad he did that because I was starting to fear for my man-card.

As someone who believes that the WNBA could work a bit on its framing/marketing strategy, I usually enjoy reading these articles just to get some insight on how one might hypothetically pitch the game to men.

As persuasive WNBA writing goes, Bob Ryan’s Boston Globe article from last year entitled “The Game You’re Missing” still strikes me as the gold standard, but I think York makes a pretty good case directly refuting the more prominent arguments people use against the WNBA.

But I usually also enjoy reading these articles for the comments. It truly amazes me that people who claim to hate the WNBA spend so much time and mental energy berating the league with unreflective comments that seem to simultaneously defy basketball logic and common sense.

The most egregious comments are either a) those that use some sort of alternative mathematical system to compare the per game stats from the WNBA (40 minutes) and NBA (48 minutes) OR b) those that suggest lowering the rim. I cannot really decide which is worse.

But what stood out for me in reading the article was York pulling “the True Fan card”. York makes a juxtaposition between liking “flash, showmanship, and dunking” and “good team basketball”. However, that dichotomy doesn't quite set right with me and is often easily dismantled by NBA fans for good reason.

First, even if you look at recent years, the NBA elites actually do play excellent team basketball. That goes for pretty much any team that has played in the NBA Finals coached by Phil Jackson (LA Lakers), Larry Brown (Philadelphia 76ers/Detroit Pistons), or Greg Poppovic (San Antonio Spurs) as well as the 2009 Orlando Magic, the 2000 Indiana Pacers, and just about any Utah Jazz that has ever been coached by Jerry Sloan. Second, when you compare that to watching WNBA players occasionally miss layups, I acknowledge that the “WNBA is more fundamental” argument seems really difficult to grasp.

So to me, that pretty much eviscerates the WNBA is "more fundamental" argument in addition to undermining the True Fan card argument. There might still be room for a WNBA as no-frills basketball argument, but even that is directly challenged by the Spurs and Jazz. Is there a more frill-less man than Jerry Sloan anywhere in U.S. professional basketball?

However, I still think there is merit to the argument that people who dismiss the WNBA without watching it because it lacks “flash, showmanship, and dunking” might not be “true fans”. To elaborate, it might mean that people who dismiss the WNBA on these grounds simply like basketball as another form of entertainment (a pleasurable diversion from daily life), rather than appreciating it as a sport (competition in an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess).

Of course sports and entertainment are interconnected, but I would argue that if you’re evaluating a basketball player on dunking ability and style, you’re looking for that person to excite you as a passive consumer rather than trying to appreciate that person’s craft on its own terms as an active observer.

This is not necessarily an evaluative claim suggesting that one is better than the other, it just suggests a distinction between a fan who appreciates basketball as sport and a fan who consumes basketball as entertainment. It is certainly possible to be one without the other or both simultaneously. I would consider myself both. I would consider those that play every weekend but never watch the former. I would consider NBA fans who bash the WNBA as the latter.

All I’m saying is that if you don’t really appreciate the sport for the sport, then own it…and don’t waste time berating the WNBA (or any other sports league) using an entertainment framework. There are probably just better uses of time.

Hateration and the Dark Side of Anti-intellectualism

My favorite WNBA critique actually came from a friend in a late-night discussion over drinks, proof that being overeducated in no way protects someone from turning to the Dark Side of Haterism.

I was talking to a few native Seattlites about whether they would ever root for the Oklahoma City Thunder after the Seattle Sonics relocated there (I have yet to find a Sonics fan who would ever consider rooting for the Thunder and it intrigues me). At some point, a good friend of mine said, “I don’t know much about basketball, but I do know you’re supposed to win. The Sonics never won anything, so I didn’t watch them. We don’t deserve a basketball team.”

Note: as Rethinking Basketball is a family site, I have censored the above statements to make them appropriate for all ages.

So I responded, “Well there’s still the Storm. Y’all got a team.”

To which my friend responds, “They don’t count.”


How can a man who just admitted he knows nothing about basketball and really doesn’t care for basketball anyway evaluate the quality or worthiness of a basketball team? It just seems a little inconsistent? There’s no way to even respond to someone who is working from a completely arbitrary place to begin with.

Unfortunately, most comments about the WNBA are just as arbitrary (and blatantly sexist) as the comment above.

So although I admire the attempt to challenge the haters, reading the comments to York's article was just yet another reminder that one simply cannot persuade irrational individuals using rational arguments.

Once one has chosen the anti-intellectual path of haterism– a path that is not only devoid of logic, but also actively contemptuous and dismissive of it – it’s really difficult to change course. Haterism makes listening to well reasoned arguments a burden simply because it threatens the very core of the hater’s identity.

To be fair, I’m sure we are all haters of something. For me it’s the New York Yankees – I’m a Yankee hater for almost no reason at all. I mean, they won a lot (last century) and they have a big cable contract bank rolling their team, but I have no real reason to hate them. I just do -- the soundtrack of my mind instantly switches to the Imperial March any time I hear the word “Yankees”.

And we can all probably discern from personal experience that people who are sipping large quantities of Haterade are probably not really seeking any sort of understanding of that which they are attacking. They do it simply because they are either argumentative, insecure, or simply unintelligent…or (in the case of the WNBA haters) sexist.

We probably shouldn’t expect them to “Expect Great” from the WNBA any more than we should expect a president of a wealthy nation to apologize for an unconstitutional war. Perhaps instead of expending energy trying to convert the mindless minions of the Dark Side, supporters of the WNBA should just maintain clarity about what they're advocating for. For me, that’s an appreciation of basketball as a sport, regardless of who's playing.

To those who don’t appreciate the WNBA as a sport, that’s cool. But is there really any need to disrespect the women who play?

Transition Points:

Perhaps some insight into what it means to be a True Fan lies in the beauty of youth sports. A recent ESPN feature on youth sports by Kenny Mayne:

Continue reading...

The Sparks' Slump is No Reason for the Storm to Relax at Home Tonight

. Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Make a comment!

Reasonable people could probably agree that the Seattle Storm are likely to defeat the Los Angeles Sparks tonight in Seattle.

Tonight’s game will be the Sparks’ fourth road game of a very long road trip. The Sparks are 1-7 on the road this season and have lost 3 of 4 games since demolishing the Storm 82-55 in Los Angeles on June 28. Lisa Leslie is still out due to injury, Candace Parker is back but still looks out of sync. And if you watched their last two games (road losses to the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun), the whole team still looks like they are trying to figure each other out.

In contrast, the Storm have three All-Star starters. One of those All-Stars, Lauren Jackson, appears to be returning to action tonight after missing two games due to injury. Tanisha Wright just seems to be getting better by the game. They have won two games in a row after dropping two straight opportunities at home, but they have not necessarily played their best basketball.

And oh yeah, it’s Cram the Key night…and it’s difficult to imagine a tougher atmosphere to play in than those Key Area fans yelling Beat LA.

But I suppose the fact that the cards are stacked against the Sparks is exactly what might give someone who’s watched the Storm at home recently reason for pause.

The Storm have this bad habit of playing about 1.5 quarters of good basketball and spending the other 2.5 quarters MIA. Compounding the problem, is that it is not always two consecutive quarters either, which means it can be difficult to gain momentum.

In other words, they don’t need additional reason to relax.

How the Sparks beat the Storm in LA

The best way to explain how the Sparks beat the Storm in LA is to simply say LA outworked and outhustled them. From the AP report:

"We really contested all their shots, ran them off the 3-point line, we double-teamed Lauren every time she got it on the pass,'' Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "Whenever we're moving around defensively, it creates easy offense for us."
Aside from the Lauren comment, the same analysis could be applied to how the Shock beat the Storm.

However, aside from what the opponents have done to the Storm, part of the problem is what the Storm are doing: letting opponents shoot well over 50% for two or three quarters of the game. While the Storm allowed the Sky to over 50% in every quarter (as high as 69.2% in that second quarter), both the Sky and the Shock shot over 50% -- and perhaps more importantly better than the Storm – in both games.

Against the Lynx, the Storm did better limiting them to 33% shooting in the fourth, but the Storm’s comeback could be attributed as much to the Lynx’s own inability to protect the ball. Minnesota had eight fourth quarter turnovers, two of them horrible passes intercepted by Wright, which led to a turnover percentage of 44.94%.

So the argument that the Storm can coast and turn it on in the fourth falls apart a bit when considering the Lynx game – they cannot count on putting together an solid half quarter and hoping the opposition falls apart. Somehow they have to put together a whole game.

Last, it’s hard not to wonder when will Candace Parker finally find a groove and prove to be a real threat to be reckoned with rather than a potential threat to be aware of?

I think that has more to do with Parker than anything the Storm can prepare for…but does anybody really want to be that team that Parker went off on for the first time in 2009?

Continue reading...

Wright’s Playmaking Ability Essential To Storm’s 72-69 Victory Over the Lynx

. Monday, July 20, 2009
Make a comment!

If what All-Stars do is make plays, then Seattle Storm guard Tanisha Wright should be named to the 2009 WNBA All-Star team as a reserve.

Nothing speaks to her ability to make plays more clearly than Storm coach Brian Agler’s decision to put the ball in Wright’s hands with 18.1 seconds left to make a play with the Storm down 68-69 to the Minnesota Lynx Sunday night. Wright scored the go-ahead basket on a contested lay-up between two Lynx defenders to help the Storm to a 72-69 victory over the Minnesota Lynx, ending their Key Arena slump.

Part of what makes Agler's decision so significant is that the play was drawn up for Wright instead of All-Star guard Sue Bird (who was the second option as a shooter on the wing) and All-Star forward Swin Cash (who was on the opposite side of the play).

“We felt like Tanisha was best in that scenario because we felt she can get to the rim, one, and we put Sue in the open corner where they couldn't help away from her,” said Agler. “Tanisha’s got great body control so she can go hard and go straight up because she's so strong. So it was a great play on her behalf.”

While Camille Little sealed the victory by drawing an offensive foul on Lynx guard Candice Wiggins in the waning seconds of the game and was the Storm’s top scorer with a season-high 18 points, Wright’s ability to make plays throughout the game was vital to the Storm’s victory.

“Whatever role I can take to help us win games, I’m willing to do,” said Wright. “I just think I’m willing to do whatever.”

Last night, Wright's willingness "to do whatever" included making plays for others, thus making her entire team better while she was on the floor. The ability to function as an effective distributor sets her apart from most shooting guards in the WNBA.

Wright had four assists and no turnovers last night, in addition to setting up her teammates for shots that led to free throws on a couple of other occasions. With the Storm’s traditional floor leader – Sue Bird – having an off-night, Wright’s contribution was absolutely essential.

Early on in the fourth quarter, that contribution came on the defensive end as well. Wright kept the crowd in the game and helped bring the Storm back to within one point early in the fourth quarter with three consecutive steals.

However, prior to the Storm’s impressive fourth quarter comeback – punctuated by a game finishing 15-2 run – they seemed to lack the energy needed to beat a young Lynx team. After three quarters, the Lynx were up seven points and looked poised to beat the Storm who put forth a lackluster performance.

For most of the game, Nicky Anosike was dominant on both ends of the floor, creating scoring opportunities on offense and disrupting a number of Storm plays defensively, knocking away entry passes, blocking shots, and rebounding. Anosike’s athleticism and developing ability to face the basket and take her defender off the dribble or hit a short fade away jumper were particularly valuable in this game.

Roneeka Hodges had an impressive second quarter, hitting a string of contested perimeter shots and recording 7 of her 12 points. Tasha Humphrey made her first appearance with the Lynx, making an important contribution off of the bench with seven points in 12 minutes.

Renee Montgomery made the first start of her career for the Lynx and played a steady, more patient game than she has in the past, despite having a statistically mediocre game with eight points on 2 of 6 shooting as well as 2 assists and 2 steals. However, we can probably expect more from Montgomery in the future.

“She has to learn a lot. It’s going to be a learning process,” said Lynx coach Jennifer Gillom before the game. “Game by game she’s been huge for us and she’s shown signs of having a great future.”

Transition Points:

Jennifer Gillom is a pleasure to watch
on the sidelines. She responds to the game with the unrestrained passion that a fan would while maintaining a level of intensity and seriousness that clearly make her a great coach.

Continue reading...