Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Night with the WNBA

Originally Posted on July 10, 2009

For once, we may have achieved gender equality somewhere where it was needed.

After three decades of Title IX and the rollercoaster rides of both LPGA and the WTA Tour, there is a sense that there has been progress in equalizing the genders in the field of professional athletics. The introduction of the WNBA under the guise of the National Basketball Association helped to bring professional women’s hoops to this country. It wasn’t the first attempt to do so, but it was unprecedented as it had the machine of the NBA behind it.

For the most part, it survived over ten seasons. In the meantime, teams came and went, but a core of clubs still play today. Still, the question remains whether the league can still survive by playing in less-than-half packed arenas, especially the ones run by their NBA counterparts.

My first WNBA game in 2000 was proof that the league can pack the fans in. This is why the Washington Mystics are still in business. To my disappointment, the lower bowl of the Target Center in Minneapolis simply looked half-filled for the Lynx.

Of all the teams in The Cities, this was my last one to experience. I was looking forward to an evening of good women’s basketball where team play is emphasized over individual achievement. Yet, there is a higher level of play above women’s college where you do see players taking more risks on the court in pushing their teams ahead. As soon as Lisa Leslie made her first slam-dunk in a WNBA game, it threw open the doors to a new level of play in women’s hoops.

Last night’s WNBA matchup brought the Lynx and the visiting San Antonio Silver Stars together in what could’ve been a much better played game. Instead, it ended pretty lopsided with the visitors grabbing the win, 77-61.

What was the problem with the Lynx? First off, Seimone Augustus was injured and scratched from the lineup. Secondly, the team tried hard, but blew simple chances around the boards and on rebounds. However, their next leader would have to step up: Candice Wiggins. The daughter of the late San Diego Padres infielder Alan Wiggins scored 15 for the Lynx. Outside of Wiggins, there were noble efforts, but many chances simply slipped away.

That gave the Silver Stars permission to kick the Lynx across Target Center. Led by Sophia Young and 10-year veteran Becky Hammon, the feisty Stars took advantage of Lynx’s mistakes and created huge leads in the second quarter and from the middle of the third quarter towards the end of the game.

Another reason for the Lynx loss would be the obvious gap between youth and experience. The Lynx is still a relatively young club where as San Antonio fielded a club with a core of veterans that have post-season and WNBA Finals experience.

Yet, it wasn’t just the level of play or the differences between the two teams that caught my attention. As with Washington, half of the patrons in the stands it appears to be from the local lesbian community. Granted, every year the Lynx would have a booth at the Twin Cities Pride festival in Loring Park. It makes sense that to promote a women’s professional league is to go after women with plenty of money to pay for season tickets, group seats and premium programs – regardless of sexual orientation. The second largest constituency would be families with daughters that want to play the game or have some interest in it.

Here’s the thing: As much as mainstream sports people would deny it, it’s going to take money from the GLBT community to sustain key entities within the sports business. In this particular market, it not only welcomes GLBT money – it rolls out the rainbow carpet to get it!

So, what about this bear-identified gay male rooted in the game of baseball and still got love for the NBA? I doubt if the Timberwolves will get me to commit to a partial season ticket plan or that the Twins will get me to lock into seats in time for the 2010 season outside at Target Field. Yet, every game I attend is money well spent – regardless of my sexual orientation.

Regardless of any economic or political argument for the WNBA, it was an OK time. It made me miss the NBA a bit – the Twins even more. Still, it is a great value worth checking out.

Now to get Seimone Augustus healthy again…

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