They Got Next
On April 24, 1996, women’s basketball announced “We Got Next” as the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin in June 1997. Since that day in 1996 there have been many firsts for the WNBA: Val Ackerman — the first president of the WNBA; Sheryl Swoopes — the first player signed to the WNBA; Cynthia Cooper — the league’s first Most Valuable Player; the Houston Comets — the first WNBA Champions; Lisa Leslie — the first WNBA player to capture all three MVP awards (regular season, All-Star and Championship) in one season.
The WNBA deserves the same attention and respect equal to the NBA due to its equal entertainment value, competitiveness, and their rights to compete and be seen, and get paid just as much.
Critics say that the WNBA isn’t really entertaining because the game is just about running up and down the court shooting lay-ups and making free throws, that there is always one team dominating, and that the game is boring because none of the ladies can dunk. Well, the slam dunk is no longer a move reserved for Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and the other high-flying guys of the NBA. Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks made history on July 30, 2002 when she did a one-handed slam dunk in a game against the Miami Sol. Leslie’s history-making move should pave the way for more women to try slamming the ball during WNBA games.
Lisa Leslie is just one of the women making the WNBA more exciting and entertaining. Although Leslie was the big story for the league in 2002 becoming the first WNBA player to capture all three MVP awards in the same season, joining NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Willis Reed as the only pro hoopsters to accomplish that feat. In 2001, The WNBA welcomed its 10 millionth fan prior to game 2 of the WNBA Championship at the Staples Center. The Seattle Storm won the first pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft in the inaugural WNBA Draft Lottery held in New York. Things got even more entertaining when the top ten picks included four of the most exciting college players coming from the same team that won the National Championship that year. They were Connecticut Huskies Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Ashja Jones and Tamika Williams going 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th in the draft. Now two years after Cash was drafted to the Detroit Shock, and after going 9-25 in the 2002 season is now one of the most exciting basketball teams in league history. The youngest team in the league turned around their franchise with a 25-9 record under new coach, former Detroit Pistons, Bill Lambier and a trip to the 2003 WNBA Finals, the first in team history. The match-up will be against the 2 time defending champions Los Angeles Sparks, making it one of the most exciting finals in league history.
The ladies of the league may be entertaining on the court, but off the court they are just as hard working and competitive as the men. Some ladies of the league like to do different things during the off season to prepare for the next season and train just as hard as the guys of the NBA. Since the season is in the summer, some ladies, especially the ones from overseas, go back to their respected countries and play during the off season to keep in shape. Others play for the National Woman’s Basketball League (NWBL) during the winter time as well. While other ladies just work out hard in the gym, do yoga, and hire trainers to keep them in shape until the season starts.
The ladies are just as entertaining and competitive as the men in the NBA, but why aren’t they being seen and not getting paid as much. In 1973, the famous Title IX act was passed. This prohibited discrimination in school programs receiving federal funds. That meant girls had to be considered for those slots in law schools, medical schools, and engineering classes that led to the better paying jobs. It also meant girls’ sports should get a fair share of funding. It was no longer legal for schools to field six or eight boy’s teams and no teams for the girls (Title IX). Since girls were given opportunities in school, at the other end of the pipe, twenty-five years later, we saw the emergence of women’s professional sports, including the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). And we saw more women’s sports represented in the Olympics, where women brought home the gold as often as the men.
Ten years before the Title IX act was passed, the Equal Pay act was passed in 1963 and means that it is illegal to pay women less than men for doing the same job, when skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions are approximately the same. It does make exceptions for “piece rate” work, for seniority, and merit pay in most situations. So there is no question that Title IX has been a success story for women’s participation in sports. But the Equal Pay Act hasn’t delivered in near the same measure for female athletes. If you think that 74 cents for the average woman in the workaday world as compared to one dollar for the average man is lousy, consider the average WNBA salary. It is about one penny on the dollar to the average NBA player. The women make around $46,000 per season, while the guys (even those that play only a minute or two) rake in $4.5 million on average. The situation is so bad that many of the women are forced to play a second season in Europe just to make ends meet.
The NBA and the WNBA are owned by the same management and says that women can’t have more because their league is still losing money, as most startups do. The men’s side didn’t turn a profit in its early years either, but the players weren’t shortchanged. Decent salaries were considered an investment in the future of the league. Besides, the women aren’t asking for those mega-millions. They just want a raise. And one way to get it would be to adjust the money formulas. NBA players get close to 60 percent of revenues back in salaries. The women get a pathetic 15 percent, and are prohibited from the lucrative endorsement deals the men enjoy.
Even though the WNBA is still a young league, it is showing great strength that the women are hear to stay and they are not just going to knock on the door to prejudice they are going to kick it down in order for them to be seen as real professional athletes who are just as entertaining and competitive as the men of the NBA.