By: Jeffrey Newholm
Dumpsters agree. Gasoline agrees. Matches and lighters agree: When it comes to key players changing teams, basketball is more than “just a game”. In fact the last time the Lakers won the title, there were riots in L.A. Yes, after they won the title. Basketball fans go nutty over free agency and stare intently at scores after every basket. In fact the Lakers gave LeBron just 153 million reasons that basketball isn’t just a game. But while fans yawn over Summer League wannabees, the WNBA offers a saner perspective.
Several women’s players have recently vented about how WNBA salaries pale in comparison to the men’s, with some comments wrongly construed as insulting to LeBron. And it is, essentially, the same job. Thankfully fan interest by all indicators, including attendance, are pointing up. But hopefully this won’t come at the expense of the purer, more innocent nature of the women’s game. Saturday night in Chicago’s new Wintrust Arena, the Chicago Sky upset the defending champion Minnesota Lynx 77-63. And for this writer, the contest was a refreshing glass of spring water after too much NBA Red Bull.
The NBA is a circus, with social media and YouTube exploding after every block and dunk. And now even in the WNBA innocent comments are taken out of context and cynically manipulated for selfish ends. But Wintrust is more friendly credit union than megabank. The arena is a sensible size, tucked away in cozy McCormick place. The players play hard, and play to win. But time seems to stand still, and the score appears merely advisory. When the Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot addresses the Lynx players by first name, it’s clear that the WNBA is different by the men’s by more than just a W. It’s an environment that can be perceived without sensory overload, and without the guilt of excess.
Judging by the grimaces of some Lynx fans after the game, it’s sure that fans will stress out over any sport. The Lynx continue to fight for playoff seeding, while the Sky calibrate for a return. But fans and players shouldn’t bemoan a loss, or burn cars over a win. Five years from now, no one will care or recall who was the second seed, or who secured the most boards. What fans appreciate, and players crave, is sport for the sake of sport and self-worth. And the WNBA, by providing this, provides society a service few others can match.