Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Guru's Addendum and Context to ESPN Magazine's Story on Founding and Growing the WNBA

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

In reading Mechelle Voepel's very fine piece with voices on the creation and development on the WNBA the Guru's memory was jogged to some of the discussions people had with him prior to rolling out the league.

Also clues exist from comments in the narrative to recent discussions so here is a combo of Guru comments, some recollections, and further interpretations.

We begin right from the top with this comment in the piece from Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner. To avoid confusion in the thread, Guru will be in front of items that are his remarks, etc.

Silver: "We underestimated how much marketing the WNBA would require. Historically, sports leagues are reliant on the media, and we also underestimated the media's willingness to cover us. We were also moving into a changed world where being on broadcast television didn't bring the same premium it once had."

Guru: That, dear friends is what he was talking about last fall at the symposium in New York when he made the remark about the league would be further along in success by now causing a rabid reaction devoid of homework.

Add to that was the collapse of newspapers who were on board at the outset but quickly jettisoned space and staff when they struck the financial iceberg.

Also, as the hubub to Silver's symposium answer to a question arose, a person that had experience at high levels on the NBA/WNBA co-op said of the remark, These guys are very calculating. Nothing gets said without a previous thought put into it.

Stern: " I do remember feeling really good about it, but I never could understand the disconnect and the absence of media coverage. So that became a source of intense focus for us."

Guru: Right now if you want proof of how out of conscience the WNBA is right now even with all the 20th anniversary opening weekend coverage, count the number of stories at the moment in the overall reaction to the Philadelphia 76ers becoming the first NBA team with a jersey advertising deal and no mention is made that WNBA teams have been going that way in growing style for several seasons.

Meanwhile, adding to Stern's comment just above here, with the desire to keep pumping all good things about the league and an intense effort to get everyone under the same universe, as in eliminate the ABL, anyone using phrases such as inferior talent comparing the two leagues, etc., usually very quickly a call came from New York from someone jumping on the reporting.

It was a source of amusement to those of us covering both leagues and at games when we knew the other had likely hit a nerve, we usually greeted each other on press row with "Did you get your call on that."

Also, in the early years with some exceptions, dealing with team level PR was an adventure. When requesting credentials or after some other manner you never got return calls to know things were set.

The WNBA did give national credentials to appropriate places that was helpful when being in the dark arriving at arenas though many times things were in place a surprise obviously at the moment.

The first weekend of the league, courtesy of then free spending of Sports Illustrated, Steve Lopez, a former Inquirer colleague now a prize winner with the L.A. Times but who had first gone to Time-Life, took the Guru for his perceived knowledge on a West Coast junket to the LA opener, then, off to Utah after the afternoon game where in Salt Lake a limo took us to the arena to parachute in a halftime, get what was needed then back to the airport to fly on to Phoenix.

The next day we went to the Mercury game where Steve had not heard back on his credential requests. At the parking entrance a guard had the list and it went like this.

Steve Lopez? Nothing here.

Sports Illustrated? Nope.

Mel Greenberg? Oh yeah, fellas, come right in.

Rick Welts, NBA executive, 1982-99:  "The last 20 years have shown we did some really smart things. But we guessed wrong on at least as many things as we guessed right. We thought that the best stewards of our WNBA teams would be the NBA teams. ... That didn't always prove to be the case. We were wrong on the audience, though people still debate the audience."

Guru: Adding to those early expections that by now in 2016 almost every NBA would have a sister team. When the ABL folded, the Connecticut crowd pleaded for a franchise and were told repeatedly Our teams as in NBA, our arenas. 

But then NBA owners stopped being all-in. And so the Mohegan group outbid the Hartford group for a jettisoned franchise and just like that they became the gold standard of the league. The GM, Chris Sienko, btw, had been the GM of the ABL Hartford team.

Two Guru thoughts of the moment: Someone needs to celebrate Carol Blazejowski, the former New York Liberty president who was a huge behind the scenes person on the road to launch. People at college level who didnt know Val Ackerman's NBA status expected Blaze to be the commissioner.

And from reading everything, somebody needs to ramp up appreciations to Rene Brown.

Meanwhile, Ackerman and the Guru go way back to serving on committees pre-WNBA and common ties for different reasons with her alma mater, the University of Virginia.

Had not the USA team derailed in Barcelona, the last Olympic loss, the WNBA might have happened sooner.

David Stern, then longtime NBA commissioner, made a remark in the run-up to the Barcelona Games, highlighted by the USA NBA superstar Dream Team, that something needed to be done so women didnt have to go overseas to stay in Olympic shape.

But the loss to the Unified Team sent plans back to the drawing board.

Over the years the Guru and Stern would cross paths at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend.

The Guru could always stick a thermometer into the health of the league by something Stern would interject in the chit-chat like when things looked like trouble loomed and he said, Be nice to them. They need all the health they can get.

But in another year, he suddenly said off-topic of the moment, Hey, the league is doing great. They are starting to make money.

So that's a little sprinkle for now but the Guru will be back with more in the next 24-48 hours.

-- Mel


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