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.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Rob's Take: The Electronic Arts Agreement Is More Proof the Future Remains Great for the WNBA

The problem with our impatient society is we want everything yesterday. We are forever comparing things and judging situations without knowing complete context.
Progress is always slow and steady. Very rarely does something goes from 0 to 100 instantly. 
For historical perspective, it took the NBA more than 35 years to finally have its Finals televised live instead of on tape-delay. The NBA used to have live playoff games begin at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The NBA’s popularity didn’t occur overnight. It took lots of time for it to become today’s monolith.
This brings me to the WNBA. 
Now, in its 21st year, the WNBA has made terrific strides from the league’s debut in 1996. Sure it may not be where it wants to be, but the league is continuing to move in the right direction as it leverages evolving technology, various media outlets and an outside-the-box approach to share their stories.
Among some of this season’s major highlights has been live streaming 20 games on Twitter, signing a deal with Fan Duel for daily fantasy games and bringing the Verizon All-Star Game to Seattle, rewarding the city as well as its loyal fans better known as the “Storm Crazies.” 
“We are seeing more than a million people playing the fantasy game,” WNBA president Lisa Borders said during her recent Verizon All-Star Game press conference last month. “I'm not smart enough to do that, but clearly if a million people are doing it, somebody must be having some fun. So FanDuel and Twitter, both new platforms for the WNBA and relatively new platforms for sports, are equally successful in our league, again, the youngest of all the professional leagues.”
The biggest sign of growth was the landmark announcement this week by Electronic Arts Inc. that WNBA teams and players will be playable in NBA LIVE 18, launching this fall on Xbox One and PlayStation®4. This is terrific and long overdue. Borders also mentioned that league attendance is up from last year. She declined to provide specifics only to say, she would share at the end of the season.
“We are delighted to collaborate and make history with EA as NBA LIVE 18 becomes the first video game to feature the WNBA’s full roster of teams and players,” said Borders. “With EA’s expertise and ingenuity, the game will provide a terrific platform to showcase the players and the league, enabling fans to experience the WNBA in a new, exciting way.”
Despite competing for attention in an over-saturated summer programming space, the WNBA has continued to shine. Just because the NBA Summer League got lots of coverage last month and ESPN enjoyed significantly high ratings, it doesn’t mean that the WNBA is an endangered species as some have suggested. 
That couldn’t be further from the truth as the recent Verizon All-Star Game showcased. The game featured nine first time players along with golden greats Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, who are in the twilight of their magnificent careers. Maya Moore is enjoying an excellent season as she has become the bridge between the veterans and young players coming into the league.
“I normally don't talk about my big brother except to praise him, and so I'm going to do that,” Borders said. “I'm going to praise him. We like talking about basketball and having it available 24 by 7 by 365. Highlighting the Summer League, highlighting the W, we're not fighting for space, it's all about basketball, and this is the game we all love, so we think it's helpful when everybody is focused on basketball.”
The action on the floor as the league heads into its penultimate month is compelling. While the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles are seemingly headed on another WNBA Finals collision course with a combined record of 38-8, it’s not guaranteed because of the Connecticut Sun, who have emerged as the story of the season. 
Even though Minnesota is the first team in league history to win 20 or more games in seven straight seasons, the Sun handed the Lynx one of its two losses this season.
The Sun are 15-9 following Friday’s thrilling one-point win over the Phoenix Mercury. Connecticut  started the season with a 1-5 record. Even more impressive is the Sun survived a 33-point scoring eruption from Taurasi.
The Sun have been special and a joy to watch compete using the good old-fashioned hallmark of team basketball to capture 14 of its last 18 games. 

The elevation and maturation of Jasmine Thomas’ game has fueled the rest of the Sun to play at a level they always believed they were capable of attaining. All-Stars Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas have formed a dominant one-two combination and Courtney Williams is shooting the ball with lots of consistency.
Meanwhile, Skylar Diggins-Smith is quietly enjoying a fantastic season after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2015. Averaging 18.5 points per game, Diggins-Smith has the Dallas Wings on track for a playoff spot. It would be great to watch the former Notre Dame standout compete in the playoffs for the first time in her career. 
Unfortunate injuries to Washington’s Elena Delle Donne, Tayler Hill and Natasha Cloud has made things tough for the Mystics, who have already surpassed last year’s win total. They will have lots to say about where they ends up in the playoffs as Washington hosts the Mercury twice, Wings, and Sun in a makeup all this month. The Mystics also visit the New York Liberty.
The revised playoff format – eliminating traditional east and west bracketing – has increased importance on every game as the Mystics August schedule dictates.
The league is trending upward and is in great shape as it continues to elevate and enhance its profile. Players are always accessible, appreciative and attentive. Sure, higher player salaries across the board, more national coverage across ESPN platforms, and stronger and consistent coverage would help accelerate the WNBA’s growth. 
The WNBA isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. It’s an awesome product. The social engagement is great as the league and teams continually produce appealing content. Fans of the league can help by retweeting their favorite stories, graphics, and more.
“Let me just say in closing these remarks that I am incredibly proud of our athletes,” Borders said. “It's a privilege to lead this league. Our players are amazing athletes. They display their talents every single day. But that's what they do. That's not who they are. There are dimensions to their personalities. They have passions. They have purpose in life, and they understand that they have a platform to share what they think about any and possibly everything.”