Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The WNBA is calling all die hard fans who aren't dead yet

Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with the acronym “WNBA,” it stands for Women’s National Basketball Association, or something like that. In order to drum-up interest in the play-offs, ESPN is using the catch phrase “Giving Everything They’ve Got,’ I think. I don’t know if whatever that is will be enough to lure viewers in, although the most current stats show that television viewership for the play-offs is about the same as the regular season—that is to say anemic, averaging about 260,000 per nationally televised game. This is about 60 percent of last year’s figure, but in line with previous years. Attendance this year is also at record lows, even given the fact that announced attendance rarely jibes with the actual attendance. It is easy enough to blame the economy, but the reality is that the product the WNBA offers is, well, boring.

Don’t take my word for it. Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News recently opined that “The pace of a typical WNBA game goes like this: shot-miss-rebound-turnover-miss-rebound-foul-free throws. Furthering the boredom is that most teams still average in the 70s, although the switch to the 24-second shot clock this season did quicken the pace somewhat.” That is to say, it is lacking in the aesthetic department.

Women’s basketball is boring as all beat; I mean, who wants to risk involuntary suicide consuming a whole bottle of aspirin to get over the headache-inducing play? How bad can it get when the only notable thing you can remember is when Brittney Griner of Baylor deposited a roundhouse right flush in the nose of Texas Tech’s Jordan Barncastle last spring—in a college game? Worse, those baggy outfits don’t do a thing for me. Why don’t they wear something more form-fitting? Why do you think women’s tennis is more popular than men’s tennis? I’d even prefer to watch an LPGA tournament over a Tigerless PGA event.

The Seattle Storm are the only team with a winning record in their conference this year, and appear to be the favorite to “win it all”—whatever that means. The Seattle Times has done its level best to pump-up the team, to no avail. Outside the play-by-play announcer and a female radio host who played basketball, the local sports DJs can’t disguise their disinterest when they are not openly disdainful. But my own disinterest is not merely due to the level of play, but the fact that, at least in Seattle, the team is being “sold” on the “appeal” of two white players, Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird; the nature of that “appeal” is something I will leave on the table, although it might be pointed out that during the 2004 Olympics, Jackson appeared with numerous other Australian Olympians in the raw in an “art” magazine.

They are also white, in a city that allowed its NBA franchise to be moved to Oklahoma City; on sports radio talk shows, many “fans” had plainly negative feelings about the black “culture” in the NBA, and couldn’t care less if there was a team in town or not (the fact that Seattle is not exactly a sports town does nothing to help the Storm’s viability). Recently, I saw a photograph of the Storm team after a game: five players, two white, three black; Jackson and Bird were eying each other as if they were lovers, while the black players were conversing amongst themselves. Now, Jackson is from Australia, a place where Aborigines are referred to by the “n-word.” Bird played for Connecticut in college, which was until recently a depository for white and European players. Although I never paid much attention to the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program while I attended school there, I can say that since then I always root for them to take-out Connecticut in the tournament, because unlike most women’s basketball coaches, Pat Summit isn’t afraid to recruit black players in “bad” neighborhoods, even if they are superior athletes. I wouldn’t know if there is, precisely, racial animosity in women’s basketball, but it is a sure bet that that the “competition” level goes beyond team. In the 2008 Olympics, the starters on the women’s basketball team that trounced the opposition were all-black, with Bird a bench player and Jackson on her all-white national team that placed in the Toilet Bowl.

I mention earlier the incident between Griner and Barncastle. After a foul had been called, Barncastle, a blond-haired white player, deliberately, and for no apparent justification other than her defense being third-rate, grabbed Griner, who is black, by the arm and literally swung her around and let her “fly.” The AP story claimed that they “were battling for position near the lane before Barncastle spun around and sent Griner lunging toward the baseline.” But the actual video flatly contradicted this version of the incident. It was a “punk” move, and as she strolled away with a punk’s haughtiness, one could read in Griner’s face indignation at this high-horse arrogance.

Does it seem I actually “care” more than I let on? Not at all. It’s just that it seems politics has more to do with the game than the actual play.

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