By Michael C. Jones
Sue Bird was interviewed by the Huffington Post as the WNBA prepares to celebrate the launch of the league’s twentieth season in May. The Seattle Storm point guard revealed what has changed in her approach to the game as she prepares for her fourteenth season, why she considers a Justin Timberlake Tweet to be her biggest accomplishment, and how she handles Internet trolls.
On this last point she emphasized the unfairness in comparing the WNBA to the NBA. She recalled spending time with her male counterparts during the Olympics, and how the biggest basketball star on the planet, LeBron James, would say things like, “Oh, Seattle, you guys are second in the west right now, good job.” She told the Huffington Post, “If those guys see value in women’s basketball I don’t know why another guy would feel the need to tear it down.”
So, Sue Bird, tear it down, we will not. And while one humble reporter can’t compensate for the torrent of attempted takedowns by the trolls, we will add one voice determined to emphasize the positive and present five reasons why the WNBA is better than the NBA.
WNBA teams are adept at the fundamentals of the game, from ball movement to defense to free throws. Yes, free throws, perhaps the most fundamental of the fundamentals. Just stand at the line and attempt to make an uncontested shot. In the 2015 season, the Chicago Sky led the WNBA in free-throw percentage at 82.6 percent. Four other teams, including the Seattle Storm, shot better than 80 percent. If the Indiana Fever had made a few more misses, half the league would have been 80 percent or better. The worst free-throw shooters were the Connecticut Sun at 74.1 percent.
The best free-throw shooting team in the NBA this season, the New York Knicks, is shooting 80.9, the only team shooting 80 percent. Three NBA teams are shooting worse than 70 percent, last among them the Detroit Pistons at 64.8 percent. The Pistons have had the old “Hack a Shaq” technique deployed against them, a cynical approach that wouldn’t even be attempted if NBA players were better at shooting free throws.
The WNBA also places a greater emphasis on team work and relies less on isolation that turns plays into one-on-one contests in a race to the rim.
Better fundamentals mean less…
Many NBA fans are weary of hearing about it from the league’s detractors, but traveling in the NBA is a basketball joke. Watch any game and you’ll see multiple traveling violations that go uncalled. Don’t believe traveling is disregarded in the NBA? Here’s video proof!
The play in the WNBA, and along with it the officiating, make such egregious traveling a rarity. It also could be that the physicality of WNBA players means they play closer to the floor and officials don’t face the quandary of an NBA ref reluctant to call traveling and erase a highlight-reel dunk.
The fact that the vast majority of WNBA players can’t dunk brings up the issue of…
Last season the average NBA player was 6’7” and 218 pounds. That’s the sort of size that makes jaws drop when these giants lumber around in public. In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell states that only 3.9 percent of American men are 6’2” or taller.
According to GameFAQs.com, the average height of a WNBA player is around 5’11”. That’s just an inch taller than the overall American (male) average, so at least in terms of height, WNBA players are more like the average Joe.
Greater physical limitations compel women players to compensate with…
WNBA players commonly practice against men. The Seattle Storm has been known to recognize their practice players during home games. Phoenix Mercury practice squad player Anthony Tepedino practiced against University of Arizona’s women’s team before joining the Mercury. Tepedino told Vice Sports, “If you’re not bringing it against the Mercury, you will get beat down.”
WNBA teams don’t take just any male pickup basketball player off the street. They want practice partners who are familiar with complex basketball terminology and can step right into the system to challenge them and help them get better through practice.
By contrast, as an exemplar of NBA attitudes toward practice, we all remember how Allen Iverson felt about the subject.
All these things – dedication to playing the game the right way, serving as relatable role models, and putting forth the effort to improve – make the WNBA an…
A few years ago, my daughter, who is 9, expressed a desire to become the first female NFL player. She understands that for that dream to come true, she would most likely be a kicker. I shared with her the numbers that are stacked against anyone who wants to play in the NFL: that 3 million American kids between 6 and 14 play tackle football, and there are just 1,696 NFL players any given season.
Then she shared with me another dream: to become the first female NBA player. And while I, like any other parent, would like her to believe she can become anything she would like to be, let’s face it: she’s 4’8” and even with a growth spurt she will never be able to play in the NBA. But she could play in the WNBA.
The WNBA is one of the most visible examples of women excelling in professional team sports. They play a game with almost all the same dimensions as the men (the court is the same size, the hoop is the same height, just the ball is smaller). There is no equivalent in the other major sports of football, baseball and hockey (although my daughter would argue that soccer also is a major sport, and there the American women are a more successful draw than the men.) My daughter, any daughter, needs inspiration, needs examples of adult women showing her the way toward realizing her dreams, and for her, the WNBA is that.