I was wrong. Really wrong. Wrong as LL and Brad Paisley’s solution for solving racism (aka Obama’s Race Speech: The Musical). Wrong as my desire to hear Stacey Dash on that remix. I got it wrong. Really wrong. Last year around this time, I predicted that Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins would more than likely be the face of the WNBA. I suggested that the comparatively more traditionally feminine Diggins would prove a more desireable and sellable image for the WNBA than Baylor’s Brittney Griner, whose height, natural hair, voice, and sexuality might prove less tenable for a league aiming for a bigger piece of the sports watching pie, even though I can unequivocally confirm that WNBA games are in some ways more entertaining than NBA contests.
I swung. I missed.
Last week, the WNBA held what could likely be the most important draft in its history. Along with Griner and Diggins, the University of Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne, who was drafted second by the Chicago Sky (yes!), completed the triumvirate of rookies who will hopefully lead the league into unprecedented and more popular waters. The women were everywhere. All over the WNBA site. ESPN. The Huffington Post. Media consumers haven’t seen a media onslaught of professional women basketball players like this since the league began in the mid-90s. Of course, now that everything gets twittered and tumblr’d and Facebook status’d, news that 2013 might be that year for the WNBA reached more observers than ever before. And the player we observed most was Griner–and not because she’s the tallest.I’m yet again admitting my lack of psychic ability when it comes to sports because I’m somewhat surprised by how enthusiastically the WNBA has embraced Griner as the face of its future. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. Her skills are absolutely undeniable. She changed the college game. She seems personable.
Chicks dig her. Actually, what surprised me wasn’t necessarily the embrace, but the fact that it seemed like the league is just going to let Brittney be, well, Brittney. Sort of. Despite news sources reporting that Brittney Griner “came out,” it seemed to me that she just provided confirmation. And in a profession where women seem to overhetero for fear of being lesbian by association, it was kind of nice that Griner could just nod her head and keep it moving, especially for those of us who still remember the other Penn State scandal. Although absolutely zero broadcasters could keep themselves from freaking out over Brittney’s manicure, they did seem to somewhat keep their shit together about her neckwear. I want to sigh and be critical of how Griner, who showed up to the draft in a Kanye-crisp white suit, has been perpetually flanked by the more straight-looking Diggins and Delle Donne during this press junket. That observation noted, I nod at the possibility that the Griner-Diggins-Delle Donne media tour is perhaps less about countering Griner’s sexuality and more about the league’s desire to capitalize on the incredible potential of its three promising rookies. This is the hand the league has been dealt, and it has (smartly) shoved all of its chips to the center of the table.
That the WNBA seems to want to permanently sever the rather paternalistic relationship with the NBA on the eve of the retirement of NBA commissioner David Stern, who Bryant “X” Gumbel famously–and rightly–called an overseer, seems fitting. That the league is being publicly referred to as “The W” seems to indicate that the declaration of independence has been drafted–in the literal and figurative sense. And that’s great. It’s time. In Griner, Diggins, and Delle Donne, The W might just have its Jordan, Magic, and bird.
Of course, such comparisons are fraught. In what might be described as the Empire accidentally striking back, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he would consider drafting Griner in the second round. The remark, along with Griner’s quip that she could hold her own, caused tremendous response. The requisite number of numbskulls took the opportunity to claim that they could beat Griner–and any other professional women’s basketball player–precisely because they are men. Others took Cuban’s words as a compliment, not acknowledging the declaration that women’s professional is lesser implicit in that view. This isn’t new. The accomplishments of college coaches are often accompanied by invisible asterisks because it’s not professional basketball feats that line their resumes. What’s more, that basketball is initially a coed game in the way that other sports aren’t further complicates our judgement. It isn’t until kids are older and the game more formally organized that gender becomes a (competitive) issue. When and if the W revolutionizes its identity outside of the NBA, it necessarily distances itself from those tired arguments.
Cuban’s remarks and the response crystallize part of what The W is disentangling itself from: How can the sports watcher appreciate the women’s game in a way that is not contingent upon a notion of male athletic superiority? How can The W be appreciated for the style of play rendered? Can Brittney be Brittney without our commentary on her alleged “guy-ness,” but rather our acknowledgement of the way she and her fellow hoopers expand of what The W stands for? I certainly hope so. Whether our reasons are curiosity, ideology, or sheer love for the game, it would behoove us to tune in come May. Moore, Parker, Augustus, Prince, Fowles, Taurasi, and yes Griner, Diggins, and Delle Donne all got game. And they’re more than worth the price of the ticket. I promise. Just watch, and you’ll see.