The entire salary cap number of a women’s basketball team is less than what one bad NBA player gets paid. Yet men still seem to resent the WNBA a disproportionate amount.
Why do men hate the WNBA?
In my experience, the average male sports fan regards most female sporting competitions with a sort of benign disinterest, which ranges from “I’ll watch if I’ve already seen this week’s episode of Ice Road Truckers” to “Wait, is the one who posed in Maxim playing?”
(Note: women’s beach volleyball is an exception to the latter, as I’m pretty sure they’ve all appeared in at least one of the lad mags.)
The WNBA, on the other hand, inspires venom. Outright hatred. And for no particularly good reason.
Why is that?
Back when the league made its debut, the general aversion to the WNBA was due in large part to marketing overload. NBA fans were bombarded with a constant stream of commercials pushing the league and its unbearable slogan, “We got next.” Now, if my unscientific research (mostly, watching comments on Twitter) is any indication, men are conditioned to hate any commercial that is played and re-played during every commercial break of a sporting event. So for the first few years of its existence, the WNBA was basically the AT&T “flash mob” ad, Franklin & Bash, and K-A-R-S for Kids all rolled into one.
I’m convinced that a large portion of the hatred that still bubbles up from time to time is held over from those original ad campaigns, even though they haven’t been nearly as in-your-face in years.
Then there’s the lockout. The NBA’s lockout has now lasted longer than the Biblical downpour that caused Noah’s flood and shows no signs of abating. Now, let’s apply the logic I learned in 10th-grade math to the situation:
The NBA funds the WNBA.
The NBA is in lockout because it claims to be losing money.
Therefore, the lockout is the WNBA’s fault.
Right? Wrong. The biggest problem with that logic is that the WNBA’s budget is basically a rounding error on the NBA’s balance sheet. The salary cap number for an entire WNBA team this season is $852,000. Eight-hundred-and-fifty grand. That’s it. That’s significantly less than the Knicks paid Bill Walker in 2010-11. Add up the salaries of every player in the league, and you’d still only get about half what the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards paid Gilbert Arenas.
Then, there’s the “inferior product” argument. That goes a little something like this: “Why would I want to watch a game played below the rim by players who can’t dunk?” And there’s some validity to that objection. But you could say the same about men’s college basketball as compared with the NBA. Or college football as compared with the NFL. Or minor-league baseball, or MLS Soccer as compared to the EPL. Why does women’s basketball get all the “inferior product” heat?
I think we’re too close to the issue.
Have you ever played basketball against women? I have, many times. My high-school crowd included a couple of pretty good female ballplayers, both starters on their school teams. I, on the other hand, was charitably offered a “manager” position when I tried out for the freshman squad.
My buddy Jim was probably the best player on our CYO team. I was the seventh or eighth man, mostly responsible for fouling the opposing team’s best guy. But when we played against the girls, we dominated.
We were six-to-eight inches taller than them. Forty or fifty pounds heavier. And playing with the women’s-size ball—as we usually did when matched up against the girls—just made things easier, because the smaller ball wouldn’t slide awkwardly off our hands when we attempted finger-rolls or hook-shots. Their only advantage? The amount of time we’d spend making dumb jokes about playing shirts vs. skins.
(Don’t judge. Every male teenager that has ever played hoops against female teenagers has made that joke at least once.)
Those games left us with the lasting impression that relatively lousy male basketball players could beat pretty good female players of equivalent age.
For what it’s worth, that lesson applies well beyond my friend Karen’s driveway hoop in Farmingdale, New York. No less an authority than Pat Summitt—the legendary coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols—is one of many women’s college basketball coaches to use male students as practice players, on the theory that scrimmaging against bigger, stronger opponents helps to prepare her team better than a standard intra-squad scrimmage.
We may not have the same basis for comparison when talking about women’s tennis or golf or soccer. In hoops, we have first-hand knowledge. And I think that makes all the difference.