I write a lot about women’s sports on this blog, but I have a confession to make – I haven’t always put my money where my mouth is. I mean, I’ll watch the sports I take part in, marathons and track and field and triathlon, but I don’t watch much in the way of team sports, men’s or women’s.
I actually used to be a hardcore basketball fan, but then Michael Jordan single-handedly destroyed my beloved Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals (while he had the flu, no less), killing the only shot that team would ever have at a championship. That event represented a demarcation in my basketball fandom, the line between Before and After. Before was when five people, all with their strengths and weaknesses, stepped on the court and came together to create something bigger themselves on their way to victory. After was when four people and a superstar stepped on the court, and the four people dished the ball to the superstar, then got out of the way.
(By the way, I know this isn’t an original criticism. A lot of people share this perspective on men’s basketball. So many share this perspective that the NBA has been struggling to retain a fan base.)
My no-basketball streak would have continued through its 15th year were it not for Brian. Brian, like a lot of guys, likes to watch sports, but unlike a lot of guys, he really likes women’s basketball. He had tuned in to watch UConn a couple of times during the NCAA women’s tournament, and so last night when he grabbed the remote and asked if I minded if he watched the game, I thought I’d settle in and watch it with him. You know, seeing as though I blog about women and athletics and all.
Going into the game I was a bit put off by ESPN’s segment on Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey and her courtside wardrobe – and it seemed like she was, too, the way she kept insisting that she didn’t care about what she wore and that she actually would prefer to dress like Bill Belichick if she could – but I quickly forgot as I watched the game between the Lady Huskies and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The game was solid, good defense, good passing, solid outside shooting, lots of agility heading toward the net. I developed a bit of a girl crush on Stephanie Dolson, the way she dominated the post position so thoroughly, and I loved how Skylar Diggins made her jump shots seem so effortlessly cool. (Brian, on the other hand, was all about Kelly Faris. “She just looks so tough,” he said.) Sometimes the play was sloppy, with UConn making quite a few turnovers, and sometimes the players came way too close to running out the shot clock for my liking, but for the most part they were fun to watch.
And then came the last two minutes of the game (which, as any basketball watcher can tell you, is really the only two minutes you ever need to watch). The last minute passed in a flurry of fast-breaks and turnovers before the game went to overtime. And what an intense overtime it was! Brian and I were practically leaping off of the couch with each shot, and when Notre Dame’s Brittany Mallory sank not one but two three-pointers to seal the deal, we were both deflated. It was exactly the kind of thing you tune into a sporting event to watch, the kind of ending that should only ever unfold in a screenwriter’s mind and yet somehow, against all odds, actually takes place in real, unpredictable, glorious life.
It had been a long time since I’d gotten that excited about watching a sporting event, maybe since watching a Rays playoff game at Tropicana Field or the Women’s World Cup last summer. It’s been a while since I felt like I could lose myself in the drama of those few minutes. If you are a sports fan, you know what I’m talking about. Fans will endure whole hours, even entire games of boring, uninspired play for those few sublime moments.
Afterward, I went on Twitter, where I saw this:
@bjyork I wish all people who say they can’t stand women’s basketball were watching ESPN right now.
I had a similar thought. This was the sport that so many men have taken such great pains to deride as boring? Really? This preconceived notion, clung to so tightly by so many, meant none of those sports fans would have gotten to see some really great basketball. But isn’t that always the way with preconceived notions, with prejudices, with ideas formed with only the barest of facts to give them shape? When you hold on too tightly to them and you never manage to look beyond their limits, you lose out on so much. When you think you already know everything there is to know about the world, you are rendered blind to the amazing things that happen right in front of your face, simply because they didn’t fit into your narrow little framework.
It seems like it will take a lot more than a few exciting games of basketball – and even the dynamic two-handed dunks of Brittney Griner – to change the minds of many. Brian told me that today as he drove to work, he heard a DJ scoff about women’s basketball. “Why would you want to watch mediocre athletes play?” he said, just before he quickly reassured his audience that he’s not sexist. (Uh, yeah, you kinda are.) Brian said he wondered the same thing, why he’d want to listen to a mediocre DJ, and he clicked the radio off. Ha!
I’m sure that women’s basketball – or women’s team sports, really – will have to face guys like Mr. Mediocre Morning Zoo for as long as we live in a sexist society. But you know what? Fuck ’em. There’s enough of us out here who know that there’s more to a good game of basketball than just being able to dunk.
As women’s basketball continues to develop, as more and more girls grow up to be like Diana, like Maya, like Brittney, that game is only going to get better and better. If the bros of the world don’t want to watch because of ew girls, then they are the ones who are going to lose out. They can continue to act like dunks-above-all-else is the only way to play but the truth is, fewer and fewer people are interested in that kind of play and the bratty man-child behavior it fosters, while more and more people want to see mature, skilled teams take the court. And more and more people recognize that the best place to see that kind of play is in the women’s leagues.
You can count me among the converted.