I’m going to start by telling a story that makes me sound like an asshole. A few weeks ago, right at the apex of the NBA playoffs after San Antonio had gone up 3-2 on Miami, I was having lunch at an Indian buffet in Minneapolis to celebrate a holiday that my brother made up (long story, but Laborial Day — halfway between Memorial Day and Labor Day). My brother’s fiancée has a close friend who is very much into the WNBA in general and the Minnesota Lynx in particular, so I asked her how the Lynx were doing. Another person at the table interjected and asked if I followed the WNBA, to which I found myself horrifically replying, “No, I’m almost overwhelmed just with regular basketball.”
Those might not have been my exact words, but that was essentially what I was saying and I couldn’t even stop myself as I felt the words escaping from my mouth and my foot going in. And this is coming from someone who has long wanted for the WNBA to succeed; who was fascinated to discover — in researching for an article about the history of basketball video games — that early versions of Electronic Arts’s NCAA March Madness series included some women’s teams; who believes that the WNBA is important culturally, and perhaps even played a part — by its proximity to the NBA and its acceptance of openly gay players — in paving the way for Jason Collins to come out.
The Minnesota Lynx beat the Atlanta Dream on Friday to claim the organization’s first WNBA championship. The 15th WNBA season, in the books. So now what? While this assuredly isn't true for all of the players, I'm assuming some members of the Dream and Lynx will join the rest of us in what could be a long fall … and winter … and spring full of non-stop banter about the NBA lockout and the present and future condition of the fractured league.
Fortunately for the players of the WNBA, there is another option. An option that not only keeps these talents on the hardwood, but also irreversibly transforms the league from something that is oft overlooked to to a profitable, wildly popular enterprise.
There is some great basketball being played by gifted athletes right now. I’m not talking about the games at Rucker Park or in the lockout-free gyms of L.A., Houston or Philadelphia, where the likes of Melo and La La are speed-dialing their press agents following every neo-conversation … No, these contests are on live on network TV from Minneapolis and Atlanta: the WNBA Finals. And it’s now way past the time that news media get hip and give these women their due. The league has teams in 12 cities, and most hometown dailies don’t assigns a beat writer to all of the teams' games. Well, it’s time to wake up, dudes. (And don’t blame this on the fact that the sports world is run by men.)
But why change now? The WNBA (in my opinion, by far the most meaningful legacy of the ballsy and ingenious NBA commissioner David Stern) needs to survive and thrive. The fact is, thousands of women and families attend games in major cities every year, and that means there are consumer products to be hawked and revenue to be generated. But the “old way” of selling the league needs to die.