W Debate: Did WNBA fans get it right?
Question: Chicago Sky rookie Elena Delle Donne received the most votes for the WNBA All-Star Game. Did the fans get it right?
Graham Hays: It makes perfect sense that fans want to see Elena Delle Donne. They're still making up for lost time.
The All-Star Game is for the fans. Whether an exhibition with low stakes and little defense represents much of a gift is a different debate, but the point is to let fans watch the best players and biggest stars on the court together for an afternoon. Delle Donne certainly qualifies in the former category based on her production to this point. And whether it's her rapidly growing band of Twitter followers or All-Star votes, it's clear she's rapidly earning that star status, too. But that demand to watch Delle Donne play basketball has thus far exceeded supply.
It's one of the perks of the era in which we live that we get to see players such as Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi on a regular basis. It has never been easier to watch women's basketball. Even Delle Donne's rookie competition, namely Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins, spent four seasons in college playing on national television what seemed like every other week. And Delle Donne? She had a handful of NCAA tournament games and perhaps the occasional regular-season appearance on regional cable. The eyeballs are catching up, but she's still one part word-of-mouth phenomenon. That just doesn't happen in this day and age.
It's not a slap at established stars that Delle Donne is atop the voting. It's about getting to see more of this particular new star.
Kate Fagan: Of course the WNBA fans got it right. For one, there really is no wrong answer when it comes to All-Star voting: The people choose who they want to see play -- that's the whole point of fan voting. So even if you wanted to argue that, statistically speaking, the top vote-getter should have been Taurasi or McCoughtry or Tina Charles, the bottom line is the fans have decided, perhaps for the reason you've stated above. They want to see more Delle Donne. (More cowbell, baby!)
It must also be said that WNBA fans are some of the most knowledgeable in all of sports. They're a small, but rabid, bunch. We've seen players such as Yao Ming and Allen Iverson get voted into the NBA All-Star Game despite not deserving (statistically speaking) the nod because the fan base for the NBA is worldwide and more heavily influenced by the "name" than the game. The same thing would never happen in the WNBA, because the people voting follow the league closely and know which players are having stellar seasons. WNBA fans are fiercely protective of their league.
GH: Ah yes, and those fans aren't hesitant to let us know it, right? You're absolutely correct that it's a passionate crowd. I think that's exactly what makes it important to see fans embrace this rookie class (lest we forget, Griner received more votes than any player save Delle Donne, Parker, Moore, Taurasi and Tamika Catchings). There was some potential for backlash with this group because of the attention directed toward Delle Donne, Griner and Diggins for the better part of a year. We saw a bit of that with Geno Auriemma, as only he can, tweaking the league via Twitter at the start of the season. And yes, as a disclaimer, the company for which we work played a sizable role in generating the hubbub about a certain trio.
But it isn't any marketing campaign that has Delle Donne averaging better than 19 points per game and shooting at least 43 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line -- a combination we've seen over a full season just once in the history of the league (Brandy Reed in 2000). Put me firmly in the camp that believes we will see Diggins in this game in years to come, but she hasn't earned that yet. Delle Donne and Griner have, and the fans made that distinction. That's a meaningful endorsement.
For all the reasons we're talking about here, I'm going to be really curious to see if this is a one-year thing, a reflection on Delle Donne's newness and performance, or if she's going to be tough to displace in years to come.
KF: Exactly. You don't get voted into the WNBA All-Star Game because you have a cool endorsement deal or high-profile image. If that were the case, Diggins would have been voted in. You only get in if your game has justified inclusion. Case in point: Delle Donne.