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Diana Taurasi: Impassioned defense of the WNBA

Taurasi drives against Houston's Michelle Snow. I had my appetite ruined on Saturday.

It happened right after I read Melissa Rohlin's piece "Why this woman is a fan of basketball, but not the WNBA." It's hard to tell what's worse about the commentary: a) that the opinion offered was so antiquated and un-evolved; b) that a woman would go out of her way to hate on such accomplished professional women; or c) that the reality is, there are people who actually share such a sheltered view.

Nevertheless, I can cosign on three sentiments conveyed by Ms. Rohlin: that the NBA does feature the best athletes and the highest level of basketball in the world, that women's sports receive far less media coverage than men's and that discussion is always healthy. Of course, those facts are as much of a news flash as word that an African American is running for president.

What may not be common knowledge, however, is that the WNBA features the world's best women's basketball, which was proven by the fact that 26 medals were awarded to current and former WNBA players. And, contrary to Ms. Rohlin's opinion, many think the WNBA is entertaining. She would've known that had she looked beyond the 12 girls "trying out" for the team at her alma mater.

Ratings, attendance and website traffic aren't up because it's boring. No offense to the caring progressives at ESPN, but the network didn't commit to pay millions for the right to exclusively televise WNBA games because it wants to, as Ms. Rohlin said, "support the cause." The WNBA, in its 12th year, is the longest-running, most-successful professional women's league in America because it IS entertaining. 

Taurasi and teammates after winning the gold medal in Beijing.

Perhaps those like Ms. Rohlin who find us so boring are simply too close-minded to give the WNBA a chance, shackled by stereotypes, homophobia or an obsession with being accepted by men. Perhaps they aren't real basketball fans.

That's what makes the premise of Ms. Rohlin's commentary so absurd. It's not even possible to be a basketball fan and not be at least somewhat entertained by the WNBA. Sure, you can be an NBA fan and not have interest in our league. But basketball fans, real basketball fans -- who see the game as more than dunks and athleticism and personalities -- can enjoy all levels of basketball without being herded toward it by big-budget commercials. Yes, even varsity games at Palisades High.

Real basketball fans, like the NBA stars who watched our every game in Beijing, appreciate the game and its beauty, the athletes and their dedication, the competition and its intensity.

Will many think the NBA is more entertaining? Of course. How that means the WNBA is NOT entertaining is beyond me. That's what is disappointing, that when it comes to the WNBA, some people, even women such as Ms. Rohlin, (who can probably see Russia from her porch) still can only regard our league as the NBA's kid sister. Where was the NBA in its 12th season? Furthermore, the idea that if it isn't the MOST watched or MOST marketed that it isn't worthy is unfairly applied to women's sports. Such a rationale belies not only an ingrained sexism, but ignorance over the fact that NBA versus the WNBA doesn't have to be an either/or conundrum: we have different seasons.

Ms. Rohlin, are you a fan of college basketball, which doesn't feature Kobe Bryant or any of the world's best players? Is Serena Williams not entertaining because her serve isn't as fast as Andy Roddick's? Are you bored by sprint star Allyson Felix because women's 200-meter times haven't cracked the 20-second barrier like the men? What does Dara Torres mean to you?

The WNBA is celebrating its 12th season because women's basketball is proven entertainment, the league where the world's best come to play, and it's growing. The WNBA set a record with 46 sellouts this season. National TV ratings increased 19% over last year. Jersey sales jumped 46%.

Contrary to popular belief, men are watching the WNBA. Games on ESPN2 saw viewership among men ages 18-34 increase 28% (71% among women 18-34!). Attend a game and you'll regularly see NBA players sitting courtside.

Oh, and that lone player from the 12 Palisades varsity hopefuls you found that actually watched the WNBA? She just happens to be the best player on the team, the 23rd ranked scorer in Los Angeles' City Section.

It seems as if Ms. Rohlin and the L.A. Times are just late catching on. Fortunately, you still have a chance at redemption. I challenge anyone who calls themselves fans of basketball, or even just a fan of sport, to watch the 2008 playoffs. If you agreed with Ms. Rohlin, but teared up during the Olympics, pick a team and follow them through (Ms. Rohlin, I'll even get you some tickets to see it live. I already have Coach Brown bringing the Palisades team to the game Thursday). Or watch the WNBA Finals from start to finish. Media and sponsors? Lead the way and provide enhanced activation and coverage.

I guarantee you will be entertained.

-- Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi is a three-time WNBA All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury.

Photos: Top: Taurasi drives against Houston's Michelle Snow. Credit: Paul Connors / Associated Press. Bottom: Taurasi and teammates after winning the gold medal in Beijing. Credit: Filippo Monteforte / AFP / Getty Images

 
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