Saturday, October 8, 2011

The WNBA: Where Nostalgia Happens by Ben Snyder

I recently had the misfortune of reading an article that tried to convince me that the WNBA is a real sports league and that the players in it are talented athletes with a fantastic product.  Having grown up with the Internet, especially during impressionable years by which my primitive brain associated recommendations from the Internet with naked women and snarky, laugh out loud humorous writing, I have previously encountered pro-WNBA sentiment, and followed the advice of said bloggers to my television-watching doom. 

I wasn’t going to get caught again, so instead, I sat down and penned this article, which I will attempt to convince someone to publish somewhere online (conveniently, I work with a website that will not only allow me to write sentences like the one you are reading right now, but is in desperate need of content, so they’ll post just about anything I send them).

Every argument against the WNBA can be summed up in one simple statement: there is nothing fun about watching women play basketball.  Women’s track?  Love it.  Women’s football (soccer, really, but I hate calling it soccer, I’m no purist but I really loathe the word)?  Better than reality television.  Women’s tennis?  Breathtaking.  I’ve thought this for decades, probably because my mom used to play and also because some of the athletes are not only gorgeous, but they really could compete head to head with the men, a comment that unfortunately comes off as chauvinist.  I wouldn’t want to compete with a talented woman in an essay-writing contest, and even if I were 2003 Andy Roddick, I wouldn’t really want to go against Serena or Venus.

Women’s basketball?  Boring.  This comes from having spent at least two years involved with women’s basketball, including getting my ass kicked by a girl in pick-up games after her practices.  I don’t believe the women playing the game aren’t better at what they do than other women, and even most men, but I do believe that what they do is as exciting as waiting for the water to boil.  The pace is glacially slow.  David Stern answers labor questions faster than most plays take to develop in a sport that is specifically designed for engaging and fast-paced play. 

High scoring games tend to be clinics in lay-ups, screens, and spot-on outside shooting.  What do those have in common?  They are not exciting.  No one goes to the playground to watch some high school talent shoot one hundred three-point buckets except for people getting paid to do it.  (Aside: If the WNBA or anyone else, paid me, I would watch all 40 minutes with the kind of intensity physicists devote to figuring out if that particle really traveled faster than the speed of light.  However, I still wouldn’t enjoy it)

Proponents of the sport point to crisp passing, genius play-calling, and fundamentals that are much more solid than the isolation one on five that most NBA teams play as reasons to enjoy the game.  This would be great, except that the NBA used to look like that, too, and it is infinitely more popular now.  As an experiment, I will suggest watching video of games from the 70’s and early 80’s before watching re-runs of the Celtics/Bulls first round series from two years ago.

Actually, it’s funny that I should mention it, since I actually did that the last time I was back home.  See, I have a collection of late 80’s, early 90’s VHS tapes with names like “Super Slams of the NBA,” “Michael Jordan’s Playhouse,” and “1984 NBA Finals”.  Because I was riding a massive nostalgia wave at the time, I actually watched the tapes using a contraption I bought at a Goodwill thrift store for $3.  (You don’t need to point out that ESPN Classic routinely shows these games, usually at times of the day reserved for soft-core porn and “Dazzling Diamonds”)

As I sank into the montage music and visions of He-Man, Thundercats, and Transformers flitted through my brain, I became more and more aware that what I was watching was terrible.  Everyone stood where they were supposed to stand, offenses flowed like well-oiled machines, and in the earliest tapes, no one jumped higher than two feet for fear of offending someone else.  The more I watched, the deeper my depression.  These games, for all the excitement I remembered of them, were terrible.  Lebron, Wade, Kobe, or even Kevin Love (ok, maybe not Kevin Love) would have dominated the piss out of these teams.  To them, everyone would have been moving in slow motion. 

Take a step back from the nostalgia express; now imagine that instead of finding a recycled VCR-TV combo at Goodwill, you actually paid real money to watch the crap.  That is the WNBA fan experience.  “Expect…Everything You Saw in a Basketball Game Played 40 Years Ago”.  And the worst part?  They aren’t even wearing those same short shorts…

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