Monday, September 21, 2015

Hang in there, Adam

I have NBA-TV. I'm sure the bean counters over at the NBA and WNBA would be surprised to know that the only reason I have NBA-TV is because they show WNBA games.  Period.

I have no interest in the Hardwood Classics.
No interest in the NBA.  (I'm not anti-NBA, I just can't afford to devote time to another sport outside the WNBA.)
"Shaqtin a Fool" goes unwatched.

If something happened where NBA-TV stopped carrying WNBA games, I'd call my local cable provider and tell them to drop the channel.

In short, I'm a pretty hardcore follower of the WNBA.  I watched every single Atlanta Dream game this year.  Many of them in person, and the ones I couldn't watch I watched either on SportSouth or WNBA Live Access, the WNBA's webcast.  And I'm not even the most hardcore WNBA fan out there. There are fans that watch games over multiple teams.  Richard Cohen/WNBAlien watched every single WNBA game in 2014 from his mountain redoubt somewhere in the United Kingdom.  I envied the man for having the time and resources to do it.

Now that you have that background, many WNBA fans were surprised by NBA commissioner Adam Silver's comments about the WNBA.  Oddly enough, not only did he decide to sound off just before the WNBA playoffs but brought up the fact that the WNBA is almost 20 years old.

"We thought we would have broken through by now", he said.
"We thought ratings and attendance would be higher,” he said.
"I think we might have been ahead of ourselves 20 years ago in terms of what we were doing," he said.
"Leading into the playoffs that begin tonight, there’s virtually no coverage," he said.

He sounded almost regretful.  My theory is that he wanted to hit even harder against the fact that local media in the many WNBA cities with few exceptions seems to have turned their back on the WNBA teams.  The gatekeepers - and they are gatekeepers; don't listen to that jazz about how they 'merely reflect public demand' - have kept the door shut on the WNBA for almost two decades, leaving the legion of fans like myself to do our best to promote the league in an intelligent way without the help of the jockocracy that runs most sports media.  Silver was there at the league's creation and I suspect he knew that if he swung harder at the local Joe Smiths and Bob Jones (always a Joe or a Bob) that write for the newspapers and run the morning sports radio programs, they would have struck back with how they 'merely reflect public demand'.

It's a story that he's heard before.
It's a story that we've heard before.

But no one every said that this WNBA thing would be easy. Oh, I'm sure a lot of people hoped it would be easy, back in 1997.  They hoped that women's basketball could finally step up to the rank of a major sport.  The crowds were big at first, due to the novelty. 

The lack of press coverage, however, starved the infant of oxygen. Despite that, the fact that the WNBA is as healthy as it is is a miracle in itself.  If the true story of the WNBA is ever written, it won't be like that written about the WPBL in Mad Seasons, a story where you can almost guess the end before the beginning.  The true story of the WNBA will be about how it survived even though many people strongly wished it would go away. that a legion of fans kept it alive, that there were forward thinking owners that devoted their time and money to the long run against the voices of naysayers.

There is an old saying:  "Power yields nothing without a struggle.  It never has, and it never will."  Adam Silver might have forgotten that. He is the owner and operator of a billion dollar industry; he's a man used to getting his way.  And still, so many fans are surprised and shocked that on some matters, not even he can get his way when it comes to the WNBA.

That's okay, Adam.  Hang in there with us.  We'll hang in there with you.  Why do fans follow losing teams for decades?  Because the victory will taste so much sweeter when they win it all, it will be more succulent, more effervescent than the dollar-store wine guzzled by the frontrunner fans of the world, a vintage well worth the wait.  Maybe we never win at all, but at least if we go down - we go down on our own terms, and not someone else's.  We WNBA fans know that the fight is worth it.

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