A New York Liberty Blog

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Three over Two

One of the big digs against the WNBA that pundits occasionally trot out is the lack of dunking. Dunking has become such a part of the NBA (and men’s hoops in general) that it is hard to imagine the male game without it. Thus, when one sees a women’s game, with its near-lack of dunking, one could argue that because women can’t (or won’t or don’t)dunk, that the female version of basketball is naturally inferior to the men’s game. Dunking is a part of the sport; the women don’t dunk; thus, women aren’t playing the full sport. That’s, of course, picking and choosing what one wants to see. For me, dunking, while cool, has never had that much effect. What turned me onto the WNBA were the skills and precision used by the players, particularly when shooting from the arc, rather than the intimidation and pure-testosterone exhibited in the NBA. The three-point shot will always be more beautiful, to me at least, than the dunk.

Obviously, the point total sets the biggest difference. Three-points as opposed to two? Three skilled shots can close a nine-point gap when thrown from beyond the arc, as opposed to five dunks. Sure, it looks nice to hammer an opponent home after they failed to take you into account, but at the end of the day, it’s still just two points. Dunking and making a big deal out of it when one’s team is down by double-digits literally makes me laugh out loud; much like when I was a goalie for hockey and some guy would celebrate scoring a goal when we were up something like 7-2, it seems hollow. Great. You’re a real man. You just jumped really high in the air. Now get back and play defense.

The skill required for the three, however, is much more intense and precise. A dunk requires height and power. Shaq makes a dunk look like a child playing with a toy hoop. A soaring three-point, up in an arc that can be immediately judged on whether it will hit the basket or not, requires timing, patience, arm strength, precision, and a strong eye. Height can actually hinder a three-pointer; the angle at which the ball must be thrown is more precise. Thus, taller players can be at a disadvantage when throwing those in the air, and with the ever-increasing height average in the NBA, that means more emphasis on overpowering in the lane and less outside work.

Besides, Dunking is “manly.” Combatants jockey for position, sweating and grabbing and elbowing until one man throws himself into the air – much higher than anyone else can dare to go – and stuffs the ball down his enemy’s throats. Intimidate your man, make him pay, simplify the game and turn it into a one-on-one contest. THAT’S the way to win it the manly way. Shooting from the outside? It’s for pussies and women. See how the conversation shifts once again to being about strength (inherently manly) and grace (inherently feminine)? How can it be any other way?

The dunk is about power; the three-point shot is about skill, and that’s the difference between the NBA and the WNBA in today’s market. Many men want teams ripping each other’s throats out, bleeding rivalries, fights in the stands, and anything else that gets their blood pumping. The WNBA is happy to produce a game that has less single-match up battles and more team action, which can appeal to segment of the population that doesn’t like all-gung-ho-all-the-time or prefers something varied. As long as the WNBA caters to a more family-friendly environment – all-ages cheerleading, players from rival teams helping each other off of the floor, not pushing dunking or showboating – and as long as most sports fans desire something that is as close to gladiatorial combat as possible, the league will never reach the heights of the NBA.

Which is fine by me, because I don’t like what the NBA’s selling at the moment. If being a jackass and insulting another game to make myself feel better is what it means to be a man (or at least make myself safe within my sexuality), than I all too happy to buy into another paradigm, thank you. Obliterating one’s opponents and losing the finesse that can turn a game into a masterpiece is what can be lost if too much emphasis is placed on over-saturation of testosterone. I know where I stand, at least. Every time one of my friends would try to get to go to a game or watch on TV, it always turned out to be a disappointment. I am all for blood-lust, rivalry, and testosterone (I played hockey, after all). But for Basketball, I prefer the three to the dunk, and if that makes me or anyone else a “fag” then at least I’ll have a lot of good company at the Garden.

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