The question the WNBA has struggled with in recent years -- and throughout its existence -- is the matter of how to attract male fans.
Even with all the Seattle Storm's success this year and the unquestionable development of the league since its inception, there are some NBA fans who simply won't watch.
Which is fine.
But Bethlehem Shoals of AOL Fanhouse and Free Darko fame was at the Storm's 79-66 win last night in the first round of the playoffs and I still think his perspective on the WNBA is worth entertaining: Part of what makes the WNBA fascinating is that the distribution of skill is not at all bounded by position in quite the way it is in the NBA.
From his article:
The Works: Lauren Jackson and the Wild, Weird WNBA -- NBA FanHouse
While the WNBA's best pivot isn't a perimeter player, Jackson certainly roams freely, working her way in and out of the lane to either find the right spot to post or fire away from long-range. This same approach holds on defense, where she'll alter a shot down low, only to leap out to pick up a guard who has found some open space. Ever seen a center get beat after trying to make a help steal on a point guard at the top of the key? I have with Lauren Jackson. And the scary thing is, she usually pulls it off. Jackson, who entered the league from Australia at age 19, is exactly the kind of athlete Chad Ford thought he was discovering back at the beginning of the century.
Essentially, what the WNBA has is players with combinations of attributes that aren't seen in NBA players. And it just so happens that Lauren Jackson might be one of the players that epitomizes that.
That's not to say the WNBA is better or worse -- I think that's a matter of taste and I've heard people make arguments both ways based upon what they want to see from a sporting event. It is to say that skipping out on the WNBA without actually watching how these different combinations play out is to miss out on a vision of basketball that has eluded NBA analysts for years and reignited discussion of a "positional revolution" recently.
And therein lies the problem for the WNBA: when most people go out to see a sports contest, they aren't paying to think about deconstructing and recombining elements, creative distributions of skill across a lineup, and relative positionality. That sounds like a Chemistry course combined with a English department graduate seminar, not quite "Where Amazing Happens." For basketball dorks such as myself or -- if he doesn't mind me speaking for him -- Shoals, that stuff is fascinating and we can spend an entire game discussing it. But many people are not interested in combining sports and conceptual frameworks.
Ultimately, I don't know if or when the WNBA will become palatable to the mainstream and thus capture the imagination of Seattle fans in quite the way the Seahawks did during the Super Bowl run or the Mariners did in ... well ... seemingly a long time ago. The Storm do have a title, but as a team that has only been around 10 years, five consecutive playoff exits since their title run loom rather large.
But for all the talk about attendance and the nonsensical argument that "nobody cares" (when "nobody" is you and your drinking buddies who would rather see the players mud wrestling in bikinis), the league has quite a bit of potential to establish itself as a strong niche sport -- as coaches and players will tell you, the WNBA has a small, but growing, tight-knit and dedicated fan base as is. Thoughtful NBA fans who can appreciate the sport for its underlying beauty (a la John Wooden) will jump on board and stick as the game grows. For Seattle fans, the team has only been around since 2000 and aside from the 2004 championship has not been past the first round much. As with any professional sports league, it's going to take time. With a women's sports league, it's going to take even more time to overcome cultural inertia.
As for the people who choose to demean and dismiss the league no matter what? As Storm coach Brian Agler has said, "We don't need 'em."
Now, back to enjoying the Storm's WNBA title run.