The WNBA began in 1997. The league has enjoyed some success, more than their predecessors, but has not gained the popularity of the men’s game. During their ten years of play, I’ve seen maybe thirty minutes of exciting WNBA action. I would probably watch more if they would broadcast it on PBS and if I liked watching basketball. I don’t watch many NBA games, either, so it’s not like I’m purposely boycotting the WNBA. I would rather play than watch. That is until both my rotator cuffs stopped rotating and my knees decided to hate me with pain.
I’m looking out my window, and a large green garbage truck is parked outside my house while the garbage man tends to my trash in the driving snow. For some reason, I don’t want that large green truck to leave. But, it did.
While experiencing my thirty minutes of WNBA viewing, over multiple sittings, I realized that the WNBA game is not much different than that of the NBA, which we should call the MNBA, and refer to only the umbrella organization over both leagues as the NBA. But the men probably don’t want to be bothered by Inuit art enthusiasts who would mistake them for the Musée National des Beaux-Arts in Quebec. It’s hard to do a lay-up when some guy is trying to get you to autograph his caribou sculpture. Why does the women’s league have to lug around an extra letter in their acronym? Because this society places greater burdens on women than it does on men, that’s why. And that’s wrong. Please remember to vote for me in the 2007 Male Feminist of the Year competition sponsored by oxygen.com. If I win, I get a $100 gift card to Crate & Barrel and a trophy in the shape of a burned bra.
In the WNBA, they dribble, pass, shoot, steal, rebound, sweat, spit, pat each other’s asses, have pillow fights, scratch each others eyes out, stop talking to each other, and if you don’t know why I’m upset, I’m not going to tell you, just like they do in the MNBA. One difference is that the MNBA has a habit of impregnating groupies out of wedlock across the country, which is something I haven’t seen in the WNBA. I wonder why that is. I remember that neither league swarms around the ball and runs around the court like a gaggle of paparazzi hounding Lindsay Lohan for a nipple shot. I didn’t notice they were not doing this at the time I was watching since I never even considered it as a basketball strategy. But then I watched my daughter and her schoolmates play in their fifth grade after school basketball program. As it turns out, the after school program girls identify a lot of aspects of basketball that the professional game is missing, but the swarm is their prevailing statement.
Since the after school program is not a league, there are no set teams. Teams are chosen at the beginning of each session from the girls in attendance. Although the teams are determined by a seemingly fair, two captain-based draft system, arguments prevail while feelings are hurt. Picking somebody first last week is not always a valid contract for a return favor the next week when last week’s first-picked girl is now the captain who is best friends (for the time being) with some other girl. Player quality is not always a factor in draft order, either, but shoe color and who sits next to whom in class seem to be.
The program is managed by Mr. Christopher, who is either a saint or really hates going home to his family. Or maybe he needs the extra $1000 a year for supervising an extracurricular activity, which he probably spends on aspirin and ear plugs. By the time I was available to attend a game, the season was just about over. Apparently, Mr. Christopher had long given up trying to teach basketball to these young ladies, and preferred to watch the clock and hope nobody was killed or maimed, while the girls re-invented the game. Little girls have a tendency to enhance their competitiveness through the dulcet sounds of screaming. Based on what I observed, they are full of ideas on how the game should actually be played, regardless of the rulebook, and were not shy about making Mr. Christopher aware of their proposed rule changes with a considerable volume of zeal. He ratified most of their suggestions, except the one about if you hit the referee (him) in the head with the ball, you get a point.
There wasn’t much passing, and when there was it was due to a dribble gone awry instead of an actual attempt to get the ball to a teammate. The girls chose to borrow from football and employ “the handoff” as a safer means of distributing the ball. Most girls would dribble the ball until one of four things happened: 1. They were swarmed by all other players who wanted the ball (including teammates) and could not move. 2. An occurrence of dribbling gone awry (see above) 3. They would actually get a clear shot and throw the ball in the general direction of the basket. 4. The school year came to an end. Once another girl stripped the ball, or was given the ball by the ball handler, she would take off running and dribbling in the most open direction, with no regard to where her basket was. The goal was to break free from the swarm and regroup at another point on the floor. For anybody that has seen a National Geographic episode, you know that this is classic swarm survival behavior. The swarm would usually catch up to the new ball handling girl in a moment or two unless she accidentally went in the direction of her basket and was able to get a shot off. Even then the swarm charged after the ball even though it was no longer officially in play. Mr. Christopher didn’t enforce the rules very much, probably because the girls changed them as they played and he couldn't keep track of them. As long as the ball stayed in bounds and nobody was crying, he kept his whistle on mute.
My daughter tried to infiltrate the hive each time it swarmed around a new queen bee ball handler, but, being smaller than everybody else she rarely penetrated the outer defenses. One time she was able to crawl between the feet of the others and pull down the sock of the ball holder. This caused the girl to drop the ball because she was upset that the uneven sock look did not go with her hair style. I figured that was going to be the highlight of the game for my daughter, a memory she could tell her grandchildren about. It was quite a nice defensive play, one that I’ve never even seen Michael Jordan do.
The swarm buzzed around the floor for about 40 minutes, with the ball accidentally going in the basket a few times. Mr. Christopher had begun sucking on his shirt collar for strength or as evidence of his pending psychosis. Eventually, my daughter did get the ball when it popped out of the swarm like an elusive bar of soap in the shower. Her instincts took over as she started dribbling for the other team’s basket. I almost shouted, “Wrong basket!” but I didn’t want to look like Kathy Lee Gifford. Whenever I shout I project a strange resemblance to Kathy Lee Gifford. I’ve been told that many times. Maybe it’s my hair. She continued to dribble with aplomb. She reminded me of Curly Neal, except with more hair. I credit the rubbly nature of my driveway and my lack of ability to fix it to account for her dribbling adeptness. If you can dribble on my driveway, which is where she practices, you can dribble on any type of nasty surface, such as Bill O’Reilley’s face (and, please do), so the smooth gym floor posed no problem for her. She zigged and zagged and zooged (like zig zagging, but on different plane), always staying one step ahead of the swarm. When she got to the other team’s basket, she looped around and headed back towards her team’s goal. She had worn out the swarm, and had a clear path to the hoop. Her only contention was Ashley Grobel, who was standing inside the key awaiting my daughter’s approach. However, Ashley’s “I want to go home” defensive technique was no match for my daughter’s “I gotta shoot this thing before I fall down” drive to the basket and subsequent power dunk, shattering the backboard glass. Well, that’s what it looked like to me as she shot-put the ball at the basket where it scraped the rim and gently teetered over it through the net. While I awaited her teammates to revel in her achievement, she looked at me with a proud yet timid, glowing little smile. I smiled back with a prouder and glorious glow. Then she was trampled by the swarm, which was more interested in the loose ball than they were that a basket had been made.
I’m not sure who won the game. It didn’t matter. My daughter fought the swarm and she won. I’m sure there are many other stories just like this one that happened to other people’s daughters during that game, but none I paid attention to. Maybe this is why the WNBA has not incorporated the swarm into their game. It may only be interesting to the parents of each player. Maybe we’ll need to wait until these innovative young ladies grow up and find themselves in positions to change the WNBA so that it becomes as popular as the men’s version of the game. Maybe they need to televise the games on PBS. Maybe the WNBA players need to learn how to impregnate groupies. I don’t know. I’m not an innovative swarming little girl. But, I live with one, and that’s good enough for me.