The WNBA started playing games in 1997. Since then, discussion about the league has barely progressed. The majority of NBA-leaning basketball fans make the same comments about the lack of dunks, the league being boring, and the form of basketball generally holding no points of interest for holders of the XY chromosomes. All this despite the fact that many of these people have never attempted to watch a full game.
At least one team is tired of these terms of argument and ready to do something to change men's minds. Ben York, a writer for the official site of the Phoenix Mercury, wants men to give the WNBA an honest chance. So he and the franchise are offering tickets to anyone with an open mind (via SLAM):
“My general response is you’re missing out,” says veteran Phoenix Mercury Male Practice Squad member, Mykael Wright, on the often instant dismissal from men on the WNBA. “It's different being a fan here [in Phoenix]; most dudes at least respect Taurasi, but they’ll only casually admit that she’s good. Well, she’s actually amazing. Clearly they haven’t seen the Mercury play because the overall talent level is incredibly high. That goes back to my initial comment. Most guys who write off the WNBA have never seen them play. I've never heard a guy who has actually watched a few games say anything that discredits the women's game.” [...]
“Basically, it boils down to people sitting on their couches at home that for some reason think they can play with WNBA players,” said a bewildered [Mercury head coach and general manager Corey] Gaines. “That leads to a feeling that the competition is inferior. People play basketball and baseball all the time and think they could go out and play pretty well; but when they see them up close it’s a whole different story. I mean, people don’t look at football players or track & field stars and think they can do what they do. So I think it has a lot to do with society and how they view the WNBA. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me, especially when we were in the Finals, and tell me they had no idea the players were this good.” [...]
“Two things impressed me when I started on the Mercury’s practice squad,” added Wright. “Their tenacity and overall skill level. It's tough to explain in words; you really have to experience the resolve and grit these women play with first-hand. To a person, they are all very friendly off the court, but once you step on the court, it’s go time. Every Mercury player plays hard all the time.” [...]
So, here’s my challenge. And I’m talking directly to any guy out there who thinks James, Mykael and I are wrong. That somehow we are exaggerating or making all of this up.
Send me an email and I’ll hook you up with tickets to a Mercury game. I’m talking good tickets, too. Trust me; we’ll take care of you.
Or, better yet, if you think you can hang with the Mercury on the court, tryout for the Male Practice Squad (like Mykael did). I’ll get you information on that, too.
There it is in plain language: if you think the WNBA stinks and have the ability to get to a Mercury game, try it out in person and see if your opinion holds up. Maybe you'll see something you didn't know existed and adjust your conceptions of what the league is and can be.
I would not call myself a WNBA superfan by any definition, but I do occasionally watch and enjoy games during the summer when the NBA world grinds to a relative halt. The key to liking the league, I think, is to not assume that the sport is the NBA in a lesser and diminished form. Professional female basketball players are not as explosively athletic as their male counterparts, and that shows in the WNBA. But they're not unathletic, and the game holds a lot of value for anyone looking to beyond superficial markers of ability. For instance, WNBA teams are more likely to experiment with eccentric systems or mess with traditional positional roles — consider 6-5 Seattle Storm pivot Lauren Jackson, who facilitates the offense more than any big man in the NBA (though she will unfortunately miss this upcoming season due to injury). Teams do interesting things with their spacing, proving that there is the same kind of intellectual interest that drives more advanced discussion of the NBA. And, on a more visceral level, players like Candace Parker, Maya Moore, and Diana Taurasi are capable of taking over a game.
The point here isn't that the WNBA is just as good as the NBA, because that judgment depends on subjective taste. However, looking at the WNBA with an open mind can be a profound experience. There's a lot to like, even if it's not the same. To put it another way, should we consider college basketball lacking in value because it's not the same as the NBA, or should we consider the rewards specific to its form? The same holds true of women's basketball.
So, even if you can't make it to Phoenix, I suggest you tune in for a full WNBA game this summer. You might find something you didn't know existed. Or, at the very least, you won't need to trot out the same tired cliches the next time someone asks you to explain why you don't care for the sport.