Weekly Countdown: A woman's place could soon be in the NBA
This will be the sports equivalent of putting a man on the moon ... and I'm not the only believer.
"Sure," he said matter-of-factly. "I think that's well within the range of probability."
He went on to explain his reasoning as well as jokingly ask that I seek out other opinions, so that he wouldn't appear to be pushing this most progressive and liberating pursuit down the throats of his players, coaches and executives. But he knows, I know and now you know there is a good chance it's going to happen, simply because the most important man in basketball has hereby declared it could and should happen.
The context is important, because this was not some kind of pet project that he leaked to me. Last month an SI editor asked me to come up with several thoughts on professional basketball for the next decade, and one of my predictions was that a woman will be playing in the NBA. Then I decided to ask Stern about it. Last week I requested a meeting with Stern and I made sure to mention that I would be asking him about the possibility of a woman playing in his league, because I didn't want to catch him off guard. You'll be able to see that he had thought about this, and that he fully realized the impact of what he was saying.
How else was he going to answer such a question? If he'd said no -- that there will be no women playing in the NBA -- then he might have been viewed as criticizing or diminishing the talent of his own WNBA. Therefore, some will respond to Stern's declaration by accusing him of cynically trying to prop up the women's league.
My own impression is that Stern was not seeking to take on the goal of signing a woman to play in the NBA. But now that he has answered the question, I am certain he will embrace the mission.
Stern's entire career demonstrates that his perspective and ambitions eclipse the needs of the WNBA. If a woman were to play in his league -- and play well -- it would have the liberating impact of
I asked if we might see a woman playing NBA basketball within a decade.
"I think we might," said Stern. "I don't want to get into all kinds of arguments with players and coaches about the likelihood. But I really think it's a good possibility."
The ultimate goal of developing a woman player is an unexpected but natural progression for Stern, who has used social initiatives such as Basketball Without Borders -- in which NBA players run clinics and camps around the world -- to help grow his business internationally. The success of a woman player would introduce the NBA to enormous audiences who wouldn't otherwise have been interested.
"The public would be excited about it," said New Jersey Nets general manager and interim coach
The pursuit of "the first woman" will also create new respect for the WNBA. From now on every great player in that league will be viewed from a new perspective.
Some NBA owners will be interested in hiring the first woman player, even if it's only to sell tickets. "That would work if you had the right woman, and particularly if she were a player who played," said Nets president
Many in the league will doubt whether a woman can match the speed and strength of the world's best male players. "I don't think its going to be physically possible," said a league GM who asked to remain anonymous. "I think they have the necessary skill sets: If you give me the best of the best in the WNBA and put them on the (free throw) line with the best of the NBA, I think you'll see they shoot the ball as well as men.
"But think about the overall speed, athleticism and strength (in the NBA). They can't take the pounding, the wear and tear, the quickness, the strength. It's not possible for them right now. Why does (women's coach)
"I love the discussion, it's great for basketball and it doesn't hurt the NBA one bit. Would someone do it for PR? Maybe. But it's not going to happen. They can't play."
Stern acknowledged the skepticism while tempering it. "If you look at world records, let's say in track and field, you'll see how the women have moved up to what would have been records several decades ago for men," said Stern. "And you watch [the WNBA] and you see the shooting percentages, the passing and the like.
"An issue that I have is when you look at tennis, and this is the argument against me," continued Stern. "As great as the women are, and actually in some cases I think their serves are served at a higher speed than men on the tour, like
"But in basketball, where it's a five-person game and you have zones and you can do a variety of other things -- a fast person with a good shot that can play on the team? I think we could see it in the next decade or so ... I'll leave it to the real experts to talk about the muscle factor. But there's going to be a very strong woman who has all the moves, who's going to want to play, and she's going to be good."
Thorn emphasized that the terms of the debate will continue to change because women players keep improving. "I'm a fan of the WNBA -- I go to games, I watch games -- and the athletic ability of women basketball players has made such a jump up in the last five or six years it's unbelievable," said Thorn. "I don't think it's a complete leap of faith to say somewhere down the road someplace there may be somebody that's good enough to play.''
Who is to say that the women's equivalent of LeBron James won't show up as a freshman at Tennessee or Connecticut four or five years from now? By launching the discussion now, Stern will has abruptly created an environment in which pro and con will hash it out, and in that way the league will prepare itself eventually for the day when a woman shows up for the opening of NBA summer league in Las Vegas.
Now when you see smaller NBA guards running free on the three-point line, think about whether an athletic woman could do the same things. "That was designed to create opportunities for skilled players," said Stern of the abolition of hand-checking. "So the question becomes: When the woman comes with the high skill set, will she be able to play? And I think the answer is yes, I think so."
The model may be WNBA MVP
"But you don't know" said Vandeweghe."We have a lot of guys in our league who are specialty players -- they come in and can just flat shoot it. Who's to say that somebody from the WNBA couldn't do the same thing?"
"I wouldn't say it's implausible because I think people have been saying that about different groups of people forever and they've been proven wrong," said New York Knicks president
"I look at the WNBA games and I'm amazed at how good these girls are," continued Walsh, 68. "I told
"I had been liked by the media at that time," said the 5-9 Meyers, but that changed when she joined the Pacers. "I recall at the press conference that I was attacked pretty good by the media. You know: what are you doing, you're taking some guy's job, you can't compete, you're too slow, you're going to get hurt, you're too small, da-ta-da. But somebody gives you an opportunity, you're supposed to say no?"
It will be different this time because of players like Meyers Drysdale and
But it's important that the NBA get this right the first time. "If she was truly a full-time player rather than a modern day
Would the other players respect her?
"If she could play," answered Cuban. "If it was a marketing ploy, they would resent her taking a job."
That's why, in order for this to have universal meaning, I'm convinced Stern and the NBA will wait for the right player to come along. If she really is the LeBron James of women's basketball, then she'll be welcomed by the stars throughout the NBA, and in turn the best players on her NBA team will have no choice but to respect her.
If anyone is going to be nervous, it will be the opponents playing against her. "That's right, the guys trying to guard her won't want to get beat," said Dallas Mavericks assistant coach
"But technically, all of the things they need are already there," said Casey, 52. "Before I leave this earth I'll see it -- or at least I'll be close to seeing it."
I didn't view Walsh's comments as an attempt to escape responsibility. Just the opposite: He was accepting it.
This comes up because I wanted to know why Walsh hasn't brought in more of his own people to help change the organization. I'm not saying he should throw out everyone -- senior VP
It's only natural to think that some of the Isiah holdovers have been waiting to be dismissed. Are they going to stick out their necks to help Donnie Walsh?
I credit Walsh with answering these questions head-on. During my interview he acknowledged that the commitment by some of Isiah's people may be an issue. He also recognized that he didn't know his staff well enough to be able to discern the fence-sitters from the go-getters. By admitting to these things he is accepting responsibility, because obviously it's up to him to fire and hire his staff, just as it's up to him to make the decisions on who the Knicks are going to draft.
Here's another thing I picked up from my talk with Walsh: I was reminded that these decisions are rarely so simple or clear-cut as they appear. One of Walsh's biggest assignments is to introduce financial discipline within the organization, because teams don't go far without that kind of accountability. So what kind of example would he be creating if he made a lot of expensive hires instead of trying to make the best of things?
My own opinion is that Walsh needs to hire a GM to chase down leads and do a lot of the thankless behind-the-scenes work necessary to turn a losing franchise into a winner. But I also recognize his job is far more complicated than I can imagine.
The two of you articulated the two sides of the argument. The truth is that the 76ers can't win with Iverson and they can't win without him. His teammates will have to adapt to him, but they weren't going anywhere anyway. Is he going to carry that team to the playoffs? Probably not.
I understand where you're coming from, Todd, but the Knicks and other teams didn't sign Iverson precisely because they didn't think he would help them win. If he hasn't been willing to adapt to the larger needs of the Pistons or the Grizzlies, then what good is he?
Last week I
Nate, Brooklyn, N.Y.
No one currently in the NBA will mimic Popovich's influence, because he is a coach with total control of his organization. That is why he has been responsible for placing successful coaches and GMs with other franchises around the league.
All of the great coaches in the NBA have great players, that's the first requirement. Then they're able to earn and maintain the respect of those players by helping them win. Few coaches receive the opportunity to coach those players, and fewer are able to make it work.
It's inevitable -- and necessary -- that Donaghy will be heard. We should all hear what he has to say. It isn't old news, and there is no statute of limitations on this issue.
At the same time, no one should believe everything Donaghy says because his career turned into one big lie. Once he has had his say, the NBA will have plenty of opportunities to present its rebuttal.
The NBA should be worried and vigilant. But the league needs to give its fans credit for being able to tell truth from fiction, and for not necessarily believing everything they hear from a referee who brought nothing but shame to his sport and himself.
The Bucks GM discusses owner
"Yes, I did," said Hammond, in his second year overseeing the Bucks. "It was a very difficult decision that we felt like we had to make.
"Let me say this about Richard: He came to Milwaukee and was great for us, he played 82 games, he was the exact kind of person we needed and he represented our organization in the very best way. We didn't trade Richard for what he did not do. We traded him for what we felt were the right reasons for us as an organization. And Sen. Kohl -- I can tell you this -- Sen. Kohl was like, 'I don't even want to consider this if it's going to hurt us in a win-loss standpoint.' Richard had $29.2 million (due him) over the next two years, and [Kohl] still was saying, 'If it's going to help us win then we'll keep the player.'
"It's very bothersome to me that people are talking about what we've done over the last few months in saying that it's a small-market team, it's an owner who has given me a mandate to cut salaries and save money. That is the furthest thing from the truth. If you look at our salaries and what he's done over the years in paying players and coaches, it's pretty evident he wants to win."
Many owners tell their GMs to cut costs; in this case, according to Hammond, the opposite was true.
"That's where I think the real misperception is regarding Sen. Kohl and this whole talk right now (of NBA franchise cutbacks) because of financial issues that everyone around the country is dealing with. I can tell you that that wasn't a case from the owner's standpoint. I have no reason to say any different, I'm not trying to protect the senator. I'm telling you the truth that this was a decision we felt from a basketball standpoint was the right thing for us to do."
Kohl has maintained a relatively high payroll even though the team hasn't had a winning season in six years. If fans are going to be critical of Milwaukee's moves last summer, Hammond says he should be target because he was pushing for those cutbacks.
"Our thinking," said Hammond in speaking for himself and coach
In preseason Skiles insisted the Bucks were a deeper -- and a better -- team despite the losses of three starters from last season. Was last year's roster capable of becoming a championship contender down the line? Hammond and Skiles didn't think so. But by 2011 they'll have cap space to sign or trade for players around rookie point guard
"I thought Scott said it best a few months ago -- this is a coach saying this -- when he told me, 'You and I have to look at these jobs like we're going to be here for 10 years. And I respect and appreciate Scott for saying that because I know not every coach is going to be saying that, and not every GM is going to think that way."
• He was apologetic for his behavior after signing to rejoin the 76ers. Iverson realized he had helped create an environment that convinced other teams to not sign him this season. I spoke to a GM yesterday who hopes to use Iverson's contrition as a teachable moment for the young players on his team. "We all make mistakes," said the GM. "But there are some things you don't have to bring on yourself."