NBA Stars Pay Tribute to WNBA’s 20th Anniversary


Fifteen to 20 years ago, it was easy for Neanderthal boys to mock the product that the WNBA (via the NBA) was introducing to us. Ten years ago when they created their own webblogs, they did the same within their same brotastic echo chamber.

In 2005, Bill Simmons – the league’s biggest Grinch – was right in one sense: “For the past nine years, the WNBA has been given countless chances, endless promotion, mainstream coverage and truckloads of capital. Has it helped? Absolutely not.”

But he was very wrong in another:

"“The mere concept of the WNBA is inherently flawed, like someone opening an inferior pizza place right next to the best pizza place in town, then using female chefs as a marketing hook. Who cares? It’s still subpar pizza, right?”"

And another (though this one could be expected):

"Well, the vast majority of WNBA players lack crossover sex appeal. That’s just the way it is. Some are uncomfortably tall and gawky, while others lack the requisite, um, softer qualities to captivate males between 18 and 35. The baggy uniforms don’t help. Neither does the fact that it’s tough for anyone to look attractive at the end of a two-hour basketball game."

In true Simmonsian fashion, let me allow Dave Chapelle to explain:

Or, something.

See, the WNBA wasn’t an inferior pizza place. It wasn’t a pizza place at all. And most people eat food because of its quality (or an acquired taste), not its appearance.

When the marketing collective realized it wasn’t about the women “having next,” but rather creating their own new, different entity within the sport of basketball, everyone benefitted. Despite it’s continuous partnership over the years, once the women’s league was untethered from the NBA (including team ownership) and allowed to naturally find its own audience (regardless of the size), the NBA relationship became a more natural one. Prior, NBA fans felt they were being force-fed a product in which they had no interest. Through All-Star weekend integration, a multi-year TV deal and the continued development of bonafide stars, a new appreciation for female hoopsters emerged. In large part because it was able to do so on its own merits. It wasn’t and never will be the NBA. And that’s ok.

20 years since its inception, the league has come full circle. NBA stars last night paid homage to their WNBA counterparts who have developed something special in the face of adversity in a traditionally male-dominated sports landscape. They did so by elevating the women’s play, not by saddling up beside them (or based on their looks).

While Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins may never make the money or gain the recognition that LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Paul George have, few of those men will ever the impact on their sport the way that women like Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie, and Sheryl Swoopes had. More importantly, those that follow Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins know that they can be stars in their own right void of unnecessary and unrealistic comparisons.

Kudos to James, Durant, Westbrook, Paul and George for showing long-overdue respect, and hopefully encouraging their fans to do the same. “Game respects game,” as the kids say.

Will I be rushing out to purchase season tickets anytime soon? If my daughters find a role model they enjoy emulating on the court, maybe I will. It’s not about me, just as it was never about NBA wonks like the Bill Simmons of the world.