East of Agitation?


Hit up another WNBA game last night. This time it was the Storm vs. the Sun, notably mostly for the presence of Lindsay Whalen. While I may have misspelled her name on Twitter (thanks to dude who corrected me immediately!), there was something to her game that seem fairly lacking in what I've seen of the WNBA: Meanness.

First, to step back from the flames of real provocation, a word or two on Whalen. I was serious when I twitted that she doesn't even need the ball to operate masterfully from the point. Depending on how you look at it, it's either quasi-mystical, or the kind of what people used to say about Deron Williams ("he gets hockey assists and stays within the system") before dude came to life, but true.

She gives it up almost as soon as she crossed half-court, or posts up at the top of the key, Cassell-style, but as a way of attracting attention and feeding someone else. And these aren't passes for assists; mostly, they set into motion a series of obvious events (two, three, four passes) that result in an open shot. Her teammates usually miss, and Whalen herself can hit the lane strong and sink jumpers at will, but whatever. She's bigger than that. Closest NBA comparison: Old Jason Kidd, if old Jason Kidd were young and could shoot.

(Speaking of which, last night I decided that comparing NBA to WNBA players is the logical next step of NBA esoterica. Like when Kevin told me "Darko was supposed to be what Lauren Jackson is." These days, everyone knows everything about every random player. If you value elitism and obscurity in your fandom—and buy my argument that the WNBA is a variation on the NBA, not an inferior product like college—then welcome to the new frontier.)


Most notably, though, Whalen is bad. She talks non-stop, plays the whole game with a scowl on her face, and stared down the ref at the half. I even think she a teammate might have been restraining her a little. This is just not the kind of stuff I've seen thus far from any other WNBA player, even someone like Cappy Pondexter or Tanisha Wright who have the kind of game that we'd legitimately expect some swagger from. Everything is very polite, matter-of-fact, and even good-natured—as it remains unquestionably competitive. During that first game, Taurasi pulled off an absolutely devastating block, and stood over her victim, yapping for a second. The whole thing was so foreign, she didn't even get a tech called.

The WNBA markets itself, and arguably, survives as, a positive, family-friendly experience. There are about a billion things about gender and sexuality and stuff that can be said here, but to cut to the chase, you have to wonder if attitude is somehow at odds with this program. I know it's shocking to hear a snarling, feisty white girl described as having "attitude"—and maybe there's a semantic difference between "attitude" and "an attitude"—but it just seems like there's very little edge to the players, in every conceivable place you could conceivably find it.

I come neither to condone or condemn this aspect of the WNBA, except that all this positivity is going to start grating on me at some point. Or at least feel forced. Flash to the league that everyone reading this site knows and loves. Without a doubt, NBA ball is at its best—from the standpoint of any kind of fan—when players get pissed, involved, intense, etc., provided this doesn't lead to them forcing shit. At the same time, I have no problem saying that my least favorite part of games is fan ugliness/attitude. I understand wanting your team to win and all that, but it doesn't excuse being an ignorant dick. I honestly believe that the Falling Down/Taxi Driver-like turn in spectator-hood is as much to blame for all the negativity surrounding the NBA as the seflish thug players are.

But enough about me and my ideal world. Why couldn't the WNBA encourage a crowd of sweetness and light while encouraging players to, I don't know, get a little more raw. I'm not saying they should argue every call, but that league needs more Whalen. By that same token, just because NBA players are talking trash and shoving each other, it doesn't mean the moron next to me has to act like he's watching Jesus get killed. Emotion can be personal without triggering some flight or flight shit. It's called being a grown-up.

That was really draining. I will leave you with a thought from Q. McCall, who has taken it upon himself to make me the world's most famous WNBA convert. To paraphrase, Sue Bird starts over Whalen on the U.S. National Team. Bird also has the image thing down pat. Whalen isn't seen as Bird's equal, even though from a basketball standpoint, she's in many ways better. You have to wonder how much that has to with her demeanor—do some regard it as unnecessary, or even a drawback to her game?

Someone who knows this shit better than me can tell me if Latasha Byears is relevant here.

(Can I curse when writing about the WNBA?)


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At 8/28/2009 4:04 PM, Blogger Q McCall said...

Just to be clear, people generally consider Bird the #1 point guard, Whalen 1a or 2 and everyone else below that (with variation by season, as in this one)...

I don't think most people would say the gap is large, but there is a large gulf in personal accolades, some for political reasons other inexplicable...

At 8/28/2009 4:21 PM, Blogger David A. Fonseca said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/28/2009 4:22 PM, Blogger David A. Fonseca said...

I like this picture of Whalen, it says a lot.


Deleted previous post because I forgot to link the damn picture.

At 8/28/2009 4:36 PM, Blogger O said...

(Can I curse when writing about the WNBA?)

Fuck yes

At 8/28/2009 4:38 PM, Blogger Ben said...

As far as marketing goes, the WNBA hasn't really instilled much into the minds of potential consumers - or come up with a memorable catchphrase. "Where Amazing Happens" has become synonomous with the image of the NBA, maybe just as much as the league's logo. Then again, there needs to be something to promote - an "amazing happens" moment.

If the media could put more spotlight on the league, then people will become more familiar with the WNBA. The WNBA MVP needs to become a household name. Lisa Leslie was arguably the Kobe Bryant - Michael Jordan, even - of women's basketball. But not many are aware of that as a result of the low publicity.

I agree with your points on attitude and overall persona. By succeeding in the creation of attitude and an appealing ambiance, numerous sports have engraved themselves into pop culture. Right now, it seems like the WNBA has reached an ethical crossroads. If their players become too passionate, it could destroy the family-friendly atmosphere they have so heavily promoted, but at the same time attract a potentially larger fan base. If things don't change, games will continue to mainly consist of 10 players simply running up and down a court and the WNBA will continue to stay somewhat inferior and obscure. Once decisions and changes are made, only then, can the WNBA emerge out of obscurity.

At 8/28/2009 5:59 PM, Blogger Phoenix Stan said...

Wait until you see Katie Douglas if you like players with an edge...she scared the crap out of me and I was just watching the game...fearsome and quite talented as well

At 8/28/2009 8:51 PM, Blogger msmoniker said...

You haven't seen "attitude" until you've watched Lauren Jackson for awhile. This is the gal that got around 19 technicals her rookie year, and has NEVER backed down from anyone, players or refs.

Last night, she was subdued due to her back injury, which is causing her a lot of pain. But if you noticed, she also had fire in her eyes the last 3 minutes or so, and DEMANDED the ball. As Sue Bird quoted her "Give me the (bleep) ball".

You can be emotional and fired up without being whiny. Lauren is usually that. Last night, Whalen was just whiny (and I like her game).

As for the USA PG bit-Bird has been in the USA system for ages, Whalen hasn't. Bird has years of international experience from US Jr. level on up and from playing overseas in the off-season, Whalen doesn't.

Until Whalen gets a few more years under her belt in the US system and overseas, she won't be considered a good PG for USA.

Right now, Lindsay Harding might be the most logical backup for Bird in the future. She likely would've had that spot in the Olympics if it hadn't been for all her injuries the last couple years.

At 8/28/2009 10:07 PM, Blogger Rebecca said...

If you couldn't curse while talking about the WNBA, not only would my notes be a lot less salty, there'd be a few coaches who couldn't get a word in. For that matter, you'd think Lauren Jackson was mute. :D

As for "pissed, involved, intense, etc.", oh, for the days of the New York-Miami rivalry. Debbie Black and Teresa Weatherspoon damn near killed each other more than once on the court. It was... well, it was a New York-Miami basketball rivalry.

I agree whole-heartedly with your assessment. The league is so worried about being good and nice and polite that it's missing the point. Passion is an emotion. Rivalries are built on passion. In turn, rivalries build the narrative that draws fans into the culture.

I'll question whether Byears is relevant only because she went past attitude and on to breaking the law, and that's not even including what may have happened at that party that got her blackballed for several years.

At 8/29/2009 12:50 AM, Blogger Ping said...

Whalen WAS whiny throughout Thursday's game against the Storm. We tired of it. She didn't have "attitude" as best as I could tell.

At 9/03/2009 1:32 PM, Blogger Asher said...

I managed for Duke Women's Basketball the year we were ridiculously stacked and a Minnesota team led by Whalen knocked us out early in the tournament. She is, indeed, very good. Whereas Alana Beard, who looked like a women's Jordan on that level, hasn't quite been what I thought she'd be.


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