JeffB Show full post »
Northern Neighbour
We also need to put women's sports into the context of the bigger picture. Women only won the right to vote in most Western democracies about a century ago and in some countries 60 years ago. Girls sports teams is still a novel concept with schools and communities only investing in them over the past 50 years, but even today they still trail how much is boys clubs receive. The idea that women could be more than just housewives is one that only took hold 70 years ago, and that was largely due to the end of the Second World War, declining wages and several recessions. Even then, women only started to enter male-dominated industries and executive positions in the last 30 years. As such, to expect any women's sports league to be the equivalent to their male counterparts is foolhardy at best, and they will undoubtedly experience growing pains.

The product provided by the WNBA, for instance, in its early days wasn't so great. Unless Lisa Leslie or Sheryl Swoopes (she was awesome) was playing, the quality of play was pretty poor. This isn't surprising since the pool of available women basketball players was minimal, and some of the most international players opted to play overseas since they were being paid better on and off the court. Since then, however, the product has improved significantly because the league is on better financial footing, there are a lot more young women and girls playing, and the coaching has gotten better. The game is fun to watch now. For instance, if I had a child who wanted to be a point guard, I would tell her/him to watch Seattle's Sue Bird play. She's a great PG, who plays with pace yet is always under control. She a great facilitator and distributor while taking care of the ball. Sure most kids want to be Russell Westbrook or James Harden, but what's the point of doling out 12 assists if you've turned the ball over 8 times?

Should MLSE consider a WNBA franchise, it needs to take a long-term and big picture perspective. A potential Toronto team shouldn't be looked at as a business venture but as part of a broader social movement and community development effort. It would be about promoting the game of women's basketball and encouraging young Canadian women and girls to play the game. It would be about encouraging growth at the community level and forging new opportunities for young kids, especially those from lower-income or disadvantaged groups. MLSE experienced this first hand with the Raptors, who in two decades have contributed to the immense growth of the game not just in the GTA but across the country. And with Masai Ujiri, in another continent – Africa. Basketball courts are being built everyone. Schools and communities are investing in teams, camps, etc., and they're giving young people opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have and which extend beyond the pavement/hardwood/whatever (e.g., friendships, physical conditioning, mental well-being, community redevelopment). The same can and will occur in terms of girls sports.

None of what I'm saying is revolutionary. The explosion of professional sports in the '60s and '70s saw cities reap in tremendous economic rewards (more jobs, more people spending money), and they began in investing in infrastructure (e.g., stadiums and arenas). Universities then followed, realizing that there was major coin to be made if they created an inexpensive farm system for the majors (this is the subject of another conversation). High schools and communities followed suit, recognizing they, too, could benefit. Most of the funding, though, went to men's and boys' sports programs, which in turn have created a huge pool of talent. The same can be replicated in women's and girls' sports, but it will take time. We're seeing it happen today, but the progress can be accelerated if cities like Toronto, Miami, Boston, and San Francisco established franchises. These centres have been chosen because they have NBA franchises, and linking the WNBA to their brother counterpart will help grow the game. And Toronto has the ultimate X-factor in Ujiri, who is a global basketball ambassador for women and men.
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