“Off the Rim” is a column by Sarah Ko about basketball.
I don’t — and never will — despise men’s basketball. The NBA is still, and should be, highly respected as one of the most entertaining and physically demanding forms of professional sports. It’s breathtaking to see an older Vince Carter make windmill dunks, LeBron James plow through players and Stephen Curry drain halfcourt threes.
But showboating individuals detract from the importance of a team sport and signing max contract deals are now a priority. Team-centric motives are disappearing in the NBA, but their counterparts in the WNBA rely on the spirit and passion of the game.
It’s no question that money is a huge driving factor behind the NBA and quite frankly casts an economic shadow over the league. NBA players focus on honing their skills in an effort to be star players and move to teams that can pay a large price tag, but WNBA players celebrate classic basketball, disregarding their paycheck because they truly love the game. The NBA used to be a space where competition was highlighted, but it has turned from a genuine place to a greedy one.
NBA players value themselves based on the size of their contract. The higher the salary, the more inclined they are to play.
The controversial NBA Lockout in 2011 resulted from a salary discrepancy between owners and players. Owners wanted to pay players less, which would create revenue sharing, and let go of players if they underperformed. Players wanted a guaranteed salary, even if they underperformed or were injured for the season. Essentially, both parties wanted to be paid more, and because both weren’t, they complained for nearly six months, which postponed and shortened the season; only 66 of the usual 82 games were played.
It’s foolish to deny that NBA players truly love the game. During the lockout, star players such as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James voiced on Twitter that they just wanted to hoop. But their tenacity for hooping simply isn’t enough.
However, WNBA players don’t have the freedom to rebel against the league and their pay. The argument that the WNBA doesn’t make enough to allow for bigger contracts is constantly made, but the women are actually advocating to have the same NBA league revenue percentage, as mentioned by Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum. NBA players receive 50% of revenue while WNBA players receive 20%.
Yet, they still choose to play in the US because playing in a nation with the highest performing basketball players trumps having stacks of green paper.
Ironically, the president of the National Basketball Players’ Association during the lockout was Derek Fisher, the current WNBA LA Sparks coach. At the time, he was advocating that players should receive guaranteed contracts. After stepping into the WNBA, he only then realized the true essence of basketball.
“On the inside of [the WNBA], there’s a greater appreciation for the passion that every single person in the WNBA has for women, women’s basketball,” Fisher said in an interview with the Arizona Republic. “You’re not in this for any other reason but the passion and love for the game. It’s been great to feel that energy.”
If WNBA players were fixated on salary alone, the WNBA would cease to exist. Their devotion to the sport is far more valuable than the extravagant numbers printed on their paychecks. They disregard their income for their love of the game, which is why WNBA fans highly respect their craft.
Most WNBA fans are older folks who miss fundamental basketball: dribbling the ball down the court, taking their time to set up a play and scoring against a structured defense. Perhaps, older basketball fans have turned from the NBA to the WNBA because the true, original sport was only being played in the women’s league. The NBA now focuses more on an offense-first approach, relying on superstars to constantly score, and defense is close to non-existent.
The WNBA fan base values the art and hard work behind the game whereas NBA fans are wrapped up in the pretentious plays curated by its players. WNBA fans still have a great appreciation for the NBA, but NBA fans constantly mock and degrade the female players.
In UNINTERRUPTED’s short documentary on LA Sparks power-forward Nneka Ogwumike, she remembers people being surprised she was a female basketball player, but she responded that she always identified herself as a professional basketball player.
Gender is auxiliary; WNBA players are working just as hard as NBA players.
In the same video, her sister and fellow Sparks player Chiney Ogwumike added, “Fame and fortune are not at the center of women’s basketball players’ success. Success in sports, especially as a female, looks like respect.”
It’s clear that what the NBA lacks is thriving in the WNBA. What makes the WNBA better than the NBA is that the motive behind the women’s league is far more genuine and their fan base appreciates that. Their epicenter of athleticism and competition in basketball lies in the heart, respect and dedication of the game.
“Off the Rim” runs every Thursday.