|WNBA: Will Not Be Accepted|
By Stacey Pressman
Special to Page 2
Ever read "The Book of Questions"?
You know, that popular 1987 book of self-discovery that asks you all these really intense questions of morality and integrity? Such as:
Question 80: Would you rather die peacefully among friends at age 50 or painfully and alone at age 80?
As if our lives aren't complicated enough, we all had to run out and make this book a New York Times bestseller.
Recently, I decided to randomly flip through my copy of the book. Sometimes, I like to reflect and try to live out some of the questions ... so I closed my eyes and made a selection.
Question 218: Would you rather attend a WNBA game or drink a shot of horse whiz while being pelted by goose feces?
Why do I always get the really tough ones?
I debated for an hour. I even Googled the author to see if he ever published a Book of Answers. He didn't. (By the way, in case you couldn't guess, the book only asks 217 questions.)
Rather than head to the stable, I first opted to drive to the casino! Yep, that's right, I hopped in my car and drove 55 minutes to Mohegan Sun, an Indian Reservation and the new home of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun. (Well, technically, it's the new home of the Mohegan American Indian Tribe's Connecticut Sun.)
How bad could it be? I had always heard that women's hoops is a more "pure" and "natural" form of basketball. I had heard it's played the way the game's founders envisioned, as opposed to the above-the-rim, too-cool-for-school game that exists in the men's arenas. Being something of a sports historian, I was, of course, curious to see just exactly how Dr. Naismith intended hoops to be played. So I parked my car and headed into the casino.
I had absolutely no clue where I was going.
Chester -- or so his nametag read -- noticed me meandering around the entrance.
"Ma'am, you look lost, can I help you?" he offered. "What are you looking for -- blackjack, slots, craps?"
"Uh, no, none of that," I sheepishly replied. "I'm here to watch women play basketball. Know where I can find them?"
Chester looked at me the same way the Best Buy employee had looked at me the day before when I asked if R. Kelly's CD was alphabetized under the letter R or K.
I then clarified: "Connecticut Sun vs. L.A. Sparks game???? Opening Day!?"
"Oh, yes," Chester said. "That must be over in the arena, it's about a half-a-mile walk through the casino and down on your right!"
"A half-a-mile!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, a half-a-mile, but it goes by quickly, 'cause there are many things to distract you along the way."
(I am going to refrain from explaining in detail what I was doing for my half-a-mile distraction. Let's just say by the time I made it over to the arena, I was down 75 bucks!)
When I arrived at my destination, Opening Day for the Connecticut Sun was hopping. The place was packed! I couldn't believe my eyes. I always thought the WNBA had all of three fans -- and that they were screwed into the ceiling.
Like Detroit, I was in Shock.
Arriving a few minutes before tip-off gave me time to survey the crowd, which had a real anti-Bill-Bennett-family-values flair -- an eclectic mix of brownies, girl scouts, lesbians and gamblers.
I found a seat courtside next to a writer from a Philadelphia paper. The game started. Three minutes into it, I was bored out of my skull. I looked to my left. My new writer friend was sleeping. I nudged him and said, "You tired?"
He replied, "Oh, I'm fine. It's really OK. The story I am filing is superfluous to the game."
"What a coincidence. I think mine is too."
Still, I decided to try to focus on the game. That's when my writer friend nudged me. "You're dozing," he said.
"No, No, I'm really not. I'm just resting my eyes." (Why is it that we get so defensive when people accuse us of sleeping?)
By halftime, the only thing I cared about was winning back my $75. As I was dreaming of jacks and aces, I heard part of a muffled announcement: "Halftime" and "shock at Conn," followed by cheers and applause. With former Connecticut Huskies Nykesha Sales and Rebecca Lobo on the Sun bench, I decided to stick around and see what so shocking. Did Huskies coach Geno Auriemma quit or something?
That's when my writer friend leaned over and said, "No, No, Chaka Khan. She's performing at halftime."
The next thing I knew, I was bopping my head and tapping my foot, singing along proudly to,"I'm Every Woman." Admittedly, there was a little pressure for me to look "into it," since Ms. Khan was about 10 feet in front of me and making eye contact. Personally, I think her 1984 hit, "I Feel For You," would have been a more appropriate song choice, given my predicament: $75 IN THE HOLE AND WATCHING A WNBA GAME. But I wasn't complaining. I was actually having a kick-butt halftime.
By the way, I need to point out how much pleasure I derive from watching men and small boys sing along to these "I'm Every Woman" femme anthems in a stadium environment. Did anyone notice during the Super Bowl this year that Gwen Stefani sang, "I'm Just a Girl," and Shania Twain sang, "Man, I Feel Like a Woman?" What is it with us? Do we enjoy emasculating our men during halftime at sporting events? I think we do! And I'm actually pretty OK with that.
I think halftime is a good enough time to segue into the purpose of this column. I would take you back through the second half, but really the most eventful happening was an audience participation stunt in which a blind-folded 15-year-old boy wrapped in duct tape rolled over some dollar bills to see how much money would stick to his body.
Look, I have the utmost respect for women's basketball players -- they're hard-working athletes and inspirational leaders, who could no doubt kick my 5-foot-2 butt. However, I'm just not of the belief that the WNBA is the greatest creation for females since the birth control pill. This league is like the female condom -- a nice idea, but does anyone really even use it?
I know I will indeed take heat for this from my female cohorts, but if people were honest, they would admit that this game is just not entertaining enough to be promoted on an equal footing with the men's game. Sports is about entertainment and 40 minutes of underhanded layups is not an entertaining product! I'm not going to pretend I enjoy women's hoops just because I am a woman.
Like a portion of the WNBA's fans, I'm finally coming out of the closet. And you know what? It actually feels great!
None of this is a call to say women should not play basketball. Of course they should, Heck, I'm from Connecticut; I watched the UConn-Tennessee women's final. But I'm willing to bet that if you raced a turtle in a UConn jersey against a turtle in a Tennessee jersey, you'd still find fans eager to paint their faces and root. This is not a slight on women's players; it simply means their fan base is made up of school loyalists, not basketball purists. If this game was indeed about the basketball, why do we care about Sue Bird or Chamique Holdsclaw when they're in college and forget about them the minute they turn pro?
There are plenty of sports where the women's game is just as entertaining as the men's -- tennis, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, figure skating. And no one cheered louder for Annika Sorenstam than I did. But when the best parts of my afternoon are Chaka Khan, a boy in duct tape and losing my shirt (nice try ... not literally) in a smoky casino, there isn't much left to debate. You need these gimmicks, because they're the nitrous oxide during the dental work.
The bottom line is that the physical limitations and differences between men and women are writ larger in a sport like basketball where larger-than-life moments of amazing physical feats are what you remember: Dr. J's baseline reverse layup, Kareem's sky hook, or Jordan's kiss-the-rim dunk.
The big news in women's basketball last season was Lisa Leslie's historic dunk, the first in the women's pro game. When the physical differences are so large as to render a basic -- yet thrilling -- aspect of the men's game practically nonexistent in the women's game, it is clear why it is not as compelling.
But heaven forbid you point out these differences, or admit that you actually like some excitement in your basketball. If you do ... well, you're just a sexist pig. Or, in my case, a woman who panders to men.
It's easy to want to like the idea of women's basketball. It's easy to say "I believe that women's basketball is just as entertaining and enjoyable as men's basketball." It appeals to our democratic values and the better angels of our nature to strive for egalitarianism. The reality is, those cherished notions just do not ring true when it comes to basketball.
The fact is that, despite whatever high-minded notions we hold, only one truth is self-evident:
Women's basketball is an inferior game, and in ode to its professional acronym, Will Not Be Accepted ... except of course, in the state of Connecticut.
Stacey Pressman is a freelance producer for ESPN and a contributing writer to Page 2. She can be reached at StaceyPressman@aol.com.