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June 2001 | Scott Engelhardt

There’s no diplomatic way to start this column. The W in WNBA pisses me off.

I understand the NBA’s desire to extend their brand by making sure that people instantly recognize that this new league is part of the larger NBA organization. I understand that the goal is to instill a sense of seamless integration between the two leagues so that, eventually, fans en masse will accept that basketball is a year-round sport.

But, they run the risk of marginalizing the women’s league as an add-on or after thought to the men’s league. On the Seattle PI Storm bulletin board, there was recently a post by someone who was questioning why anyone would bother being a fan of the WNBA. I think his crowing statement was that any good high school boys team could play and win against WNBA teams. Without addressing this inane statement directly, it does illustrate the unfortunately common perception that the women’s game is inferior, weak and not worth watching.

I think that the W helps to reinforce this perception. For me, it’s one small step up from naming a college team the Lady Vols, Lady Rams, Lady Aggies, etc. Why can’t they just be the Vols, Rams or Aggies? Why do they have to be the “Lady” version of the men’s team? At least the UW teams are all Huskies, regardless of sport or gender (although that’s probably more due to the fact that a Lady Husky is a female dog and we all know where that line of logic leads).

Given the fact that most of the WNBA teams are tied to their NBA counterparts by team colors, logo and name similarities, I am honestly surprised that we aren’t fans of the Lady Sonics instead of the Storm. One of the things I appreciated about the ABL was that it was simply a basketball league and not a women’s version of this or that.

By putting the W in WNBA, the NBA has permanently labeled this league as a subordinate that they see as the women’s version instead of a league that has it’s own integrity and worth.

A couple of years ago, Nike ran a series of commercials with the taglines “WMLB (or WNFL, WNHL), it’s only a matter of time” showing young girls playing sports with the same attention, competitiveness and desire as boys. They’re right. It is only a matter of time unless those who eventually develop these leagues decide to honor the game or marginalize it.

Perception is reality. As much of a fan as I am of the Storm and the WNBA, I have a hard time seeing how the idea that the WNBA is a lesser version of the NBA is going to change for those people like the guy who thinks the Mount Vernon Bulldogs (Washington State AAA Boys champs) could take the Storm.

Eventually, I believe the quality of the game and players will prevail, but they have a long way to go thanks in part to that W.