In 2004, Candace Parker "won" the McDonald's HS All-American Slam Dunk contest by beating out Josh Smith (one of the NBA's best dunkers) with a simple behind the back (on the ground while running towards the hoop - not to be confused with JR Smith's - who she also beat - behind the back while in the air) reverse dunk. Nothing fancy - no windmill, no jumping over anybody...she just went up on the opposite side of the rim and put it in. To put that into perspective, I was in a slam dunk contest when I was in college where a kid tried that SAME dunk - he went out in the first round while I advanced and won...and I guarantee you I couldn't beat Josh Smith in a dunk contest...but I digress. From the moment Parker arrived on the scene, she was deemed the future of women's basketball. She went to Tennessee and continued to impress as she lead the team to consecutive NCAA titles. In her rookie season she more than lived up to the hype as she lead the Spark's to the Finals and took home both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors. The future of women's basketball has been placed in the once deemed future of women's basketball.
We have seen time and again with the NBA that interest in the league comes because of two things, A) great rivalries (Bill's Celts vs Wilt's Lakers and Bird's Celts vs Magic's Lakers) and/or B) amazing superduperstars who spark everyone's imaginations (Michael Jordan). You have to have at least one and up to this point, the WNBA really hasn't had either. In it's early years Houston vs. NY seemed to be the great rivalry, unfortunately NY was never able to beat Houston and nobody has heard from either team since 2000. They also tried to push Lisa Leslie as the superduperstar who could spark the imaginations of all but she turned out to be nothing more than a great women's player (not like MJ who sparked the imaginations of people all over the world even if they'd never actually seen a basketball game in real life). When Chamiqua Holdsclaw came along, she was supposed to be the future of the sport (I remember seeing her and thinking that she was the first female player I had ever seen handle the ball and control her body like a male player), but she didn't have the head for it and never lived up to her potential. So the league has been left, waiting for a breakthrough into the larger NBA fan base. Yes the league has grown in ratings and number of fans attending games...but come on, we all know that it is a struggling league and times are going to get tougher in this economy. So now here we are watching (I use the word watching very loosely as I have never actually been able to make myself watch more than five minutes of any WNBA game) and waiting to see if Parker can take the game to the next level. My guess is no - even though she is able to dunk (she got two in-game dunks during her rookie season), the league is still slow and sloppy and the quality of play is generally poor - like watching two small JUCOs play only without the atmosphere and lets face it, you go to college games for the atmosphere more than the quality of play. Basically, from my experience, watching the WNBA is kind of like watching an average rec league game - there may be highlights but I would never pay to see it.
Now, don't get me wrong I would LOVE to be able to watch and enjoy the WNBA. After all, it is pretty much the only game in town for a small period in the summer. It's just (again, in my limited experience) so excruciating to watch that I can't even force myself to keep it on even if my only other option is watching John & Kate plus 8 with my wife. So, what would it take for me to become a fan of the WNBA? Well, simply put, the WNBA as a league would have to grow some balls (figuratively speaking of course) and make some pretty drastic changes. Like what? Glad you asked!
Shorter shot clock
I would shorten the shot clock to somewhere between 14 and 18 seconds. The women's game is too slow and methodical - with a faster shot clock they would be forced to play a little quicker and use their instincts more. Besides, using Danny Biasone's (the inventor of the shot clock) math, the WNBA shot clock should only be 20 seconds. He originally estimated that a game should have around 120 shots/game and divided that into the 48 minutes of a game to come up with 24. However, WNBA games are only 40 minutes (2400 seconds) making the ideal shot clock (per Biasone's equation) 20 seconds so the idea of shortening the shot clock is not completely unfounded.
Take away zone defense
I would go to the strict defensive 3 second rules the NBA enforced throughout the 90's which basically made it impossible for teams to play zone. Just take zone out of the women's game - make them guard each other one-on-one allowing for players to create a little more. One-on-one defenses force the offense to move, cut and run an offense whereas zones tend to allow teams to stagnate and stand around. This will also help with the speed and flow of the game.
Do something that the NBA can't (or is afraid) to do
Run the postseason single-elimination tourney style and make it a big bracket event on ESPN, make dunking worth 3 points, raise the hoop for the last minute of every quarter a la MTV Rock n' Jock, allow goaltending, make the girls play in sports bras...do something to raise the entertainment value. Or how about doing a big All-Star game on a 9' hoop with 2 co-ed celebrities on each team? Do they even do an All-Star game? Has anyone actually watched it? What if there was a chance that the girls would be dunking on each other? Yes, Candace Parker can dunk but there's no way in hell she ever dunks on somebody in traffic - wouldn't you watch that? Throw in the chance that Donald Faison might dunk on Diana Taurasi and vice-versa? Obviously they don't want to turn the league into a gimmick, but what if they just had a huge gimmick All-Star weekend. They could have dunk contests on the 9' hoop, maybe do 3-point contests on a 12' hoop get creative with it. Do something that will bring interest, that will make NBA fans say maybe I'll check that out if only for the chance that something hilarious happens.
The WNBA needs to get noticed, they need to do something to draw the attention of basketball fans (myself included). I want to like the WNBA (I am going to make an honest effort this year - I may even cover some games for Phoenix Stan), I want to be able to sit and watch a game with my daughter but until they do something, I just don't see it happening. Anything will help, after all, a win...no matter how gimmicky it is...can go a long way. Just ask Candace Parker.