Readers debate women in NBA

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Much mail arrived following commissioner David Stern's prediction that a woman probably will play in the NBA within the decade -- so much that I must respect your wishes, and enable you to respond in a public way.

Here is some of what you had to say ...

OK you got me. I read the whole article about a woman playing in the NBA. Mission accomplished. More clicks for you. But the whole thing is absurd. Skills-wise? For God's sakes, they don't even play with the same ball. And women will never be able to defend at that level. I don't have to look any further than my own local team. With as bad as the Heat point guard situation is, Chris Quinn (a player with handle and shooting touch) can't get off the bench because he can't guard anyone.-- Dave Romero, Miami

I agreed in print on Friday and I agree with you now -- there is no woman today who can play in the NBA. But you have to admit that women players have improved a great deal over the last decade, and who's to say there won't be a freakish athlete who comes along over the years ahead?

Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James -- each one raised the bar to a level that was unimaginable athletically 20 years before he entered the league. For a swingman of Jordan's modest height to dominate the NBA was without precedent. No one had seen a center of Shaq's bulk and athleticism, and LeBron is a 280-pound power forward who plays like a shooting guard.

If I'd told you in the 1970s that a 6-foot-6 guy would someday lead the league in scoring while driving his team to six NBA championships -- an achievement without precedent for any star, much less for a perimeter player (Jordan was the first wingman playing off the ball to ever become league MVP) -- you'd have laughed about that, too.

Things happen. Surprises happen. Things change.

One very important factor will continue to limit the option of a lady basketball player among men: women use a smaller ball throughout their entire career. If this is really a direction the U.S. wants to go in, then women need to start playing with a man-sized ball.-- Jeliason, Wilmington, Del.

If this ever does happen, it will happen via one amazing woman player who has spent her young life aiming for this far-fetched dream. She'll have played thousands of hours of pickup games against men. The ball will be irrelevant to her.

I'm sure you're getting swamped with people coming after you for saying women could play in the NBA. I just want to ask you a simple question. Has woman ever competed in a real, top-flight, men's professional league? Not NASCAR or anything like that, but a sport where the players actually come into contact with each other. And actually competed, not brought in for publicity. Good luck finding one.-- Scott, Milwaukee

You're exactly right, Scott, no woman has done that.

But look at it this way. For how long have women viewed basketball as a career? The WNBA just finished its 14th season, which is to say that women's basketball is just getting started in our country. When the NBA finished its 14th season, the year was 1960 -- and the NBA has changed a lot since then.

I know women have been playing college basketball for decades, and for a long time the best of them have been able to play professionally in Europe. But most of that has happened out of sight. Only in the last decade have American girls grown up watching women professionals playing basketball on TV, with the result that in this past decade we've seen women's college basketball grow to be much bigger than it ever used to be.

Women's basketball is just starting to become a mainstream sport. There is an awful lot of growth still to come as the sport matures and more young girls are exposed to it and they grow up to further raise the level of play. Stern predicted that a woman could play in the NBA 10 years from now. I think he means to predict that women's basketball will grow a lot over that decade to come.

Think about the short-sighted judgments you would have made about the NBA in 1960 if you'd decided the level of play would remain fixed and the talent wouldn't rise athletically.

I'm sorry, but you are way way off if you think a woman has the physical attributes to play in the NBA. At some point we are doing them a disservice to hold them to the standards of male athletes when we should hold them to the standard of other women. You are comparing apples to oranges.--Brian, Philadelphia

What if someone comes along who is so much better than her female peers -- a woman who has grown up playing against boys on the playgrounds? If she wants to play in the NBA and the men's league wants her to play, then where is the harm? I see it as only a good thing.

You are absolutely out of your mind if you think a woman can play in the NBA. I don't care what David Stern says, there is no way a woman can compete with the men that play currently. It is a physical impossibility. The only reason Stern would do this is purely for the attention it would garner, as the NBA is middling behind the NFL and the MLB in terms of relevance. I figure the same reason Stern wants a woman in the NBA is the same reason you wrote this article in the first place. I am sure you will get a lot of page views (you got mine), but rest assured I won't waste my time reading anymore of your nonsense in the future.-- Bryan Gushurst, Chicago

It is a physical impossibility right now in the year 2009, I can't argue with you there. I'm going to miss you, Bryan, you were always one of my favorite readers.

How can you compare women entering the NBA to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier? In baseball a separate league existed that contained players who would have been stars on any MLB team. Jackie was representative of this huge talent pool that was unable to play due to the color of their skin. Women will play in the NBA if they are good enough, and right now they are not able to. There is no comparison. -- Josiah, Vancouver B.C.

There are hundreds of millions of women around the world who do not have the same opportunities as men. These women represent a huge talent pool that is prohibited from education or certain types of jobs or the fulfillment of whatever their dreams may be simply because they are women. To them, the symbol of a woman player in the NBA could serve as their Jackie Robinson.

Many of you are citing with absolute certainty what cannot happen. Here is my point of view of what might -- might -- happen.

When Stern said he believes a woman can play in the NBA, he was opening a door ... in fact he was busting open a door that hadn't existed. The result is that millions of women from now on will grow up playing basketball with the dream of becoming the first woman to play in the NBA. For millions of them that dream will be far-fetched, like all of the other sports dreams that kids grow up pursuing.

However, what if over the next decade a young woman player develops freakish athletic talent of a level never seen before. Men's basketball has produced those kinds of players every now and then, and so, too, will the women's game. She will have grown up with that dream of playing in the NBA, and if she has Michael's or LeBron's or Kobe Bryant's ruthless ambition then she will do everything she can to make it happen.

Will she be a star in the NBA? Probably not. Will she earn a place in an NBA rotation? Maybe she will, maybe she won't.

The two reasons I believe we'll see a woman on an NBA team are: (1) because the NBA wants it to happen, for selfish reasons, of course; and (2) because some amazing athlete will grow up being told by Stern that she can do it, and she'll do everything she can to fulfill that dream.

This next statement is really going to set off a lot of you, but I believe Stern's prediction of a woman player in the NBA will go down as one of the most important things he has ever done. As leader of the world's second-biggest team sport, he has told half of the world's population that he believes in them and there is nothing they cannot accomplish. There was no harm in him saying it, there was only upside, and 10 or 20 years down the line we will realize its impact.

Yes, Stern can bring a woman to the NBA, but I haven't seen any with the athleticism to actually compete. Even the good shooters shoot flat-footed and would have a truly difficult time shooting over the more athletic guys that would guard them.

While almost every NBA player can dunk the ball, it became a big deal when a woman finally dunked the ball in competition! But in our increasingly dumbed-down, destructively politically correct society, I'm sure we'll see a woman in the NBA. I'm also sure the players will be ordered to refrain from criticizing any woman, and will also required to tone down their aggressiveness in guarding women!-- Tony Moschetti, High Point, N.C.

To take you out of context ironically, I agree wholeheartedly with you that our society has been dumbed down.

I don't see how the NBA will make money from being politically correct. I can, however, imagine Stern making an awful lot of money if a woman is able to play -- and play well -- in his league. Maybe he views his statement as the PC thing to say, but mainly it is the right thing for his owners as a way to grow his league and its audience. Perhaps nothing will ever come of it, but imagine if something does.

Liked the idea of the article on women possibly playing in the NBA, but I don't understand why you didn't interview a prominent player in the WNBA and ask her opinion? It seems a little sexist to get all these opinions from men about the abilities of women and not any of the women that are possibly the ones who could be in the NBA.-- Jose Anguiano, Philadelphia, Pa.

I think that's a fair point, and I'd like to hear what women players have to say on the subject. But I'd also like to point out that I'm being accused of being politically-correct and sexist at the same time, so maybe I'm doing something right.