Are you a man who thinks he has what it takes to compete with professional basketball players? Are you willing to play with these pros for free? To serve as a practice player who must suppress his ego for the benefit of the team? If so, the WNBA needs you!
That’s right, the female version of the NBA—home of the best women’s basketball players that this planet has to offer—rely on men to push them in practice. The trick, however, is that you can’t exactly push them the same way (or in the same places) that you might push a guy. Well you could, I guess, but it’d probably be awkward.
Because WNBA rules allow teams to only carry 11 women on their rosters, team’s are hard-pressed to consistently field five-on-five practices, thanks in part to injuries. To assure that they’ll always have a full and competitive run, teams often fill their practice squads with men, many of whom played in college or semi-professionally. If teams could find women who are skilled enough to fill these important roles, those women would probably be good enough to play in the WNBA themselves. So the league turns to men, men who need to be aggressive but not too aggressive. (Read: No lowering the shoulder on Better Midler like George Costanza did on Seinfeld.)
“You want competitiveness. You don’t want them to be, ‘Oh, she’s a girl, don’t play hard,’ ’’ Los Angeles Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom told the Associated Press. “You want them to play hard, but at the same time they have to understand their masculinity and not be overly competitive and cause them to be injured. The ones that have been around a while know the girls and know how to be aggressive.’’
Occasionally there are new players who don’t understand the concept. Some feel they need to be the star and get carried away with shooting too much, others get too aggressive. Usually, they don’t last long.
Have you ever played full-court basketball with women? I did numerous times in college. The pick-up games were often dotted with girls who played for the Vanderbilt women’s team, a program that’s consistently ranked in the Top 25. As such, I never had to worry about taking it easy, per se, because these women were so fast, quick, savvy and dead-on accurate with their jump shots as to consistently leave me looking like the rank amateur I am. That said, they were definitely instances when you’d find yourself defending a girl as she drove to the basket, or converging on the same loose ball, and, whoops, sorry, didn’t mean to touch you there.
This Associated Press article didn’t really address that aspect of men playing a contact sport with women, but it’s impossible to deny. If you’re playing softball or volleyball against girls, then it’s pretty easy to avoid physical contact. But when a girl is backing you down in the post, with her butt slamming into your groin, well, it’s tough to avoid.
These WNBA players undoubtedly benefit from playing against men who tend to be stronger, faster and more physically imposing than other women. But it’s naïve to deny the existence of sexual tension in this dynamic, no?