Did Women's Watch miss the boat on Bandits, Griner, dunking and more?

Posted1/16/2010 12:01 AM

It's mailbag time.

A couple of my recent columns have generated some lively and passionate letters that I want to share and respond to publicly.


Around New Year's Day, I counted down my top 10 women's sports stories of 2009 and I heard it from softball fans. They thought I missed the boat by not including on my list the "Battle of the Sexes" game last summer between the Chicago Bandits pro softball team and the Schaumburg Flyers minor league baseball team.

The game drew 8,900 fans and generated a bit of a media buzz because of its novelty.

Michaela M. wrote: "I think the Chicago Bandits deserved to be on that list. They were the defending league champions and repeated as regular season champions and 2009 was the return of Olympians Jennie Finch and Vicky Galindo.

"But the best part was (the Bandits') game against the Schaumburg Flyers. It was one of my favorite games last year."

Well said, Michaela.

The Bandits probably should have made my list. Even though the "Battle of the Sexes" game with the Flyers was a gimmick, it had people talking about women's sports. And in this town, that qualifies as a victory.

(And no, people talking about lingerie football isn't, in my opinion, the same thing.)

Last week, I wrote a column about Baylor freshman basketball player Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8 dunking and shot-blocking sensation.

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I said, "It's possible with her frequent dunking, Griner will completely revolutionize women's basketball, and, in turn, change the way the mainstream thinks about it."

I still think that's true.

First of all, no woman I've ever seen can dunk like Griner. She throws it down. Hard. And she's got a bit of flare and theatrics in her repertoire, too. Many dunks by women are pretty straightforward.

Griner gives style points to women's basketball that haven't been there before, but more importantly, she opens the door to a different way of thinking about what female players are capable of now, and in the future.

I think that's exciting.

My guy Lew, who might be the most passionate reader and commenter in the history of Women's Watch, didn't like my position on Griner.


Said Lew: "Do you really think (dunking) is what basketball is all about? Is razzle-dazzle your criterion for evaluating a player or a team?

"The NBA-ization of women's collegiate basketball has been proceeding apace for some time now. Your column and outlook certainly contribute to this trend, which is ruining what was so unique about collegiate women's basketball. The NBA and WNBA are utterly unwatchable. Collegiate women's basketball is fast becoming the same. Dunking wizardry will only accelerate the process."

Lew, Lew, Lew. It's as if you've never read this space before.

I've never said that dunking is the be all, end all in basketball, women's or men's.

Being a former back-to-the-basket post player who never even shot a 3-pointer in my college career, I appreciate the nuts and bolts of basketball as much as the next purist. A good box out and offensive board, a smooth baby hook, a nifty back-door pass - those are the kinds of things that impress me most of the time.

But if women's basketball is ever truly going to make any more inroads into the sports landscape (and you know everyone associated with the sport wants that), it needs to up its entertainment value with the mainstream. Passing, teamwork and the fundamentals bring the diehards to games, but athleticism, flare and yes, the potential for a crowd-pleasing dunk or two, bring everyone else.

When it's at its best, women's basketball can continue to hang its hat on good fundamentals and teamwork. But if the aerial skills of Brittney Griner and the next Brittney Griner and the next one after that put a few more fannies in the seats, don't tell me that's not good for women's basketball.

Finally, in the Griner column I mentioned that some people consider her a revolutionary and I listed the women I think have revolutionized women's basketball over the years.

I included Nancy Lieberman, Cheryl Miller, Anne Donovan, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Chamique Holdslaw, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.

Jerry made his case for Ann Meyers, the first player to be on a U.S. National team while still in high school. And Antman5 couldn't believe I left off Cynthia Cooper, the catalyst of the Houston Comets' four straight WNBA championships during the first four years of the league.

Points well taken and I loved Cooper in the WNBA. She helped generate a buzz around the league in its early years. I'll give her that.

But I think I'm going to stick to my list. (Plus, I could use some more good mail.)

Next week: Putting fans in the stands when there is no Brittney Griner on the roster. What do you think women's basketball needs to do to draw more fans?