An Opposing View on Women in the NBA

On this-here blog my colleague Robert Charette suggested that it would make perfect basketball sense for Mark Cuban to draft tall lady-baller Brittney Griner:

The argument for why Cuban should pull the trigger on drafting Griner is self-explanatory. Griner has the talent and size to play in the shrinking center position.

So, look: I’m not omniscient. I’m no fancy big-city lawyer. I’m not even an unfrozen caveman lawyer. I’m just a guy with a set of eyes. And while I suppose it’s possible that a woman who dunks approximately as well as a 7th grade boy could make it as an undersized center (or undersized power forward) in the NBA, I’m skeptical. It’s not all about size: it’s strength; it’s speed; it’s athleticism.

Jonathan V. Last wrote a handy piece on this factor a few years back:

Men are taller, weigh more, and are stronger and faster than women. And this includes even women at the peak of physical condition.

Take the 2000 Olympics in Sidney. Marion Jones went into the games as the most ballyhooed female sprinter in history, and she made good on her promise, winning gold in both the 100 and 200 meter events. But how do Jones's times stack up against high school boys from, say, New Jersey?

In the 100 meters at last year's state championship meet, Jones would have finished fourth (At the Olympics Jones won in 10.75 seconds; the boy who was state champ in New Jersey last year ran a 10.30. In the sprint world, a 0.45 second difference is like winning by three touchdowns.). She would have fared no better in the 200 meters–her Olympic time would have put her, again, fourth in the state.

When the best women in the world go up against even mediocre male competition, the results are often ugly. Remember when renowned tennis legend Karsten Braasch schooled the Williams sisters? Allow me to consult Wikipedia to remind you:

A fourth event dubbed "Battle of the sexes" took place during the 1998 Australian Open[19] between the 203rd ranked male player Karsten Braasch and the Williams sisters. The match took place on court number 12 in Melbourne Park. [20] First Braasch took on Venus Williams and beat her 6–2. He also played Serena Williams and won 6–1 after the Williams sisters, who were 17 and 16 at the time, said they could beat any man ranked 200 or worse. Braasch was 15 years older than Serena and Venus, and had drunk 2 beers and played one round of golf that morning.[21] Braasch said afterwards, "500 and above, no chance" as he claimed he had played like someone ranked 600 in order to keep the game "fun."[22]

What about if you even things up a little and give a great woman some rules-advantages against an over-the-hill man?

For this match, Connors was allowed only one serve per point, and Navratilova was allowed to hit into half the doubles court.[16] Connors won 7–5, 6–2.[17]

Then again, Billie Jean King did beat a 55-year-old former pro that one time, so maybe Griner will totes fit into the NBA. Just like when Annika Sorenstam competed in a PGA tourney. Golf isn’t that athletic a sport, so she probably did really well, right? Or maybe she failed to make the cut. And I’m sure Michelle Wie crushed it in PGA Tour events. She could drive the ball so far! You’ll have to click those links, though, because I can’t quite remember how things turned out for them.

For what it's worth, Geno Auriemma, one of the greatest coaches in the history of women’s college basketball, thinks it’s a silly idea:

Auriemma said Wednesday that Cuban is a financial genius, but "his genius would take a huge hit if he drafted Brittney Griner."

"I think it would be a sham," he said. "The fact that a woman could actually play right now in the NBA and compete successfully against the level of play that they have is absolutely ludicrous."

But what does he know?

If Mark Cuban wants to try Griner out as some sort of PR stunt, it makes some sense. Hell, if Mark Cuban drafted her with a second round pick it wouldn't be that damaging because late-second-round picks in the NBA draft are roughly worthless. But as a basketball move, it'd be silly. And it'd be pretty transparently silly, at that.

Honestly, I’d be really impressed if Griner could make the bench of Baylor’s men’s squad. That’d be a heck of a feat. And (only very slightly) more realistic than her making the pros.