Last night, 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike nailed an off-balance shot over 2016 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles with 3.1 seconds left on the clock to secure the win and the WNBA Championship for the Los Angeles Sparks. After such a thrilling game it makes one wonder why the Bay area doesn't have a WNBA franchise.
Perhaps it’s arrogant of me to assume that a WNBA franchise would thrive in the San Francisco Bay Area considering I live over 5,000 miles away. But everything I’ve seen during my brief visit in 2013 and everything I’ve ever read about the area leads me to believe that there is no better fan base for a WNBA team.
From Jason Kidd and Paul Silas to Hook Mitchell and Bill Russell, the Bay Area isn’t short of basketball legends, especially at the high school and college level. The women’s teams have also received a lot of support, as players in and around the Bay Area have had success at the highest levels, including recent examples such as Layshia Clarendon, the Ogwumike sisters—Nneka and Chinenye—and Reshanda Grey.
It seems obvious, to me at least, that basketball fans in the Bay Area love the game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a WNBA franchise receiving a lot of support from the local fan base ... this is after all the same people who cheered so loudly for the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2015 playoffs that the opposing team’s coach complained about the decibel level being illegal.
Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have expressed interest in making this happen. It's definitely not outside the realm of possibility that within the next few years there will be a WNBA team in the Bay Area to rival the Los Angeles Sparks. Only time will tell.
Unfortunately, the WNBA has struggled when it comes to appealing to the masses. Some say this is a marketing issue; a lack of televised games. On the other hand, there are some fans who genuinely believe it's just not worth watching. In comparison to the NBA, it's not difficult to see why your average sports fan would feel this way. The WNBA might not have the high-flying dunks and feats of athleticism that NBA fans have come to love; but is that really what matters?
How can they make the game more appealing? Should they lower the rim to allow for more dunks? Should they be airing more games on television? Should they change the uniforms to make them tighter and shorter in a desperate attempt to appeal to men? Oh wait, sorry, they already tried that last one (Seriously the WNBA actually contemplated this at one point).
There is something to be said for airing more games and generally promoting the league and its stars in a better way. However, there has been some positive signs of growth in that area over the last year.
Just last month, the WNBA reported that the average attendance for games had risen by 4.6 percent over the previous year. ESPN and ESPN2 viewership during games was up by 11 percent, and the league’s social media presence was greater than it’s ever been. On top of that, WNBA League Pass subscriptions have increased and the official league website set a new record for traffic.
Historically, sports have been a breeding ground for misogyny. For all the alpha males and false bravado, there's an unsettling truth to the idea that men just don't appreciate female athletes in the same way that they do their male counterparts. Maybe it starts as little kids. When I was growing up, a feeble and misguided pass would be classed as "throwing like a girl." Crying because you've rolled over your ankle or taken an elbow to the head? "Quit acting like a girl."
I've seen a lot of comments about the WNBA on social media that lead me to believe that on some level misogyny plays a part for some. But perhaps I'm being too hard on my fellow men? Honestly, I don't know. I don't profess to have the answers when it comes to matters as complicated as this. What I do have, however, is an anecdote.
For the last few years, I've played basketball every Friday night with a group of guys consisting of coworkers and friends of friends. One night we had a couple of people pull out at the last minute, leaving us undermanned. My mum (that's "mom" to you guys) worked in the same building as myself and one of my coworkers invited her to play to help make up the numbers. Some of the other guys thought this was a joke. In the least malicious way possible, a couple of them even scoffed at the suggestion.
I was in my mid-20s at the time and they thought someone my age bringing his mum to a basketball game was pretty laughable. They also found the idea of my mum playing quite funny as well. Not only is she a women, but she also happens to stand at a paltry 5-foot-3! The mere thought of this was clearly baffling for some. In the end, everyone went along with it because, hey, we all really wanted to play and for the sake of making the teams even, anyone would do.
The game starts and my mum is on the opposing team from myself, her teammates freeze her out. Nobody passed her the ball for the first 10 minutes.
This was a mistake.
My friend Matt (also known as "Big Matt" due to his stature) jumped up to rebound the ball after a bricked jump shot. My mum snatched the ball away from Big Matt while it was still in his hands. She didn't just outrebound him, she somehow overpowered him. Maybe it was adrenaline or maybe it was just seething rage; regardless, she took the ball away from him and passed it to a cutting teammate for an easy layup.
In this moment, Matt looked perplexed. He shrugged off the jeers and laughter of his teammates and strolled back up the court.
My mum went on to outrebound my entire team again on the next possession and followed it up with multiple steals and tipped passes. After her teammates realized she could play, they started giving her the ball more. She managed to sneak past our defense on a couple of occasions, scored some crafty layups and generally dominated on both ends.
If I had chosen to do so I could have warned the other guys that my mum played for an amateur team for many years when she was younger and later went on to coach my primary school, the equivalent to elementary school in the United States. All of the fundamentals of the game, I learned from my mum. I wouldn't be playing, watching, talking or writing about basketball if it wasn't for her passing on the love she had for the game.
So maybe it's because of my mum that I've learned to appreciate the game regardless of who's playing it, as long as they're playing it well. I love the Warriors, I love the NBA but above all else, I just love basketball.
I don't watch as much WNBA as I could, mostly due to a lack of time. But a team in the Bay Area would be something to behold. I genuinely believe the combination of multiculturalism, open mindedness and basketball knowledge of the fans would make for one of the best fanbases a WNBA franchise could wish for.
Needless to say, as long as the WNBA continues to grow, the likelihood of a team succeeding in the Bay Area only increases.
Who knows, one day we might see Riley Curry suiting up for a WNBA team; whether for the local team or not, that would be exciting.