Saturday, May 21st, 2011
“I am thrilled to welcome Maya Moore into the Jordan Brand,” said Michael Jordan in a recent press release. “Not only has Maya proven to be a prolific winner on the court, but her hunger and determination to make an impact off the court makes her a valuable addition to the Jordan family. We look forward to working with Maya as she carries her success to the next level.”
Maya Moore, the number one overall draft pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, will play with the Minnesota Lynx alongside Simone Augustus, the 2006 Rookie of the Year who suffered a season ending knee injury last year. Without Augustus, the Lynx had fewer scoring options and in a league where players can go off for 30 points at a time, the Lynx struggled to keep up. This year however, Maya Moore joins the squad and Augustus returns. The duo will have the support of seasoned women’s basketball players, including Candice Wiggins, Lindsey Whalen, and Monica Wright. There’s no doubt that the Lynx will be the team you probably can’t beat this season.
Most people, the average person, perhaps yourself, can’t name 5 teams in the WNBA and there’s only 12. I find it fascinating that people know Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, and some know Tina Charles, but have no idea that they can log in to WNBA.com and watch every WNBA game this season or that they can pay about $20 to see their favorite stars in person when they come to D.C. or Atlanta, or New Jersey. They don’t know that there have been equally (if not more) deserving players before Maya Moore worthy of a Jordan deal like Angel McCoughtry, Simone Augustus, Lauren Jackson, Swin Cash, Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie. Moore is joining a league of extraordinary talent. The WNBA is where the best female basketball players in the world come to play for 4 months after playing full seasons abroad in Russia, Western Europe, China, and Australia. They don’t come to the U.S. play for the money, and they also don’t come for the recognition because they almost never receive it unless it’s on the butt end of a joke. They play because they love the game.
Women’s collegiate and professional sports go largely untelevised, are almost never discussed seriously on ESPN’s Sports Center, or any sports analyst newscast. In the summer, it’s about Major League Baseball and the upcoming NFL season. No one is reporting on the WNBA or it’s trade rumors, player movements, off-season injuries, stats, or MVP race. I think the real issue is not that no cares, it’s because the wrong people care, and the right people don’t. Who do you imagine to be the average women’s basketball fan? Straight men don’t generally show support for women’s sports, but when powerful ones do big things happen. Maya Moore is the perfect example.
President Obama brought his daughter Malia to a Mystics game last year. He also had a basketball game at the White House and invited his favorite basketball players over for a game one of whom was Maya Moore. During this year’s NCAA Tournament President Obama shared his picks for the men’s and women’s bracket. As he wrote in his ballot for the women’s bracket, he shared a story about Maya Moore picking the pocket of Dwayne Wade at the game he had at the White House. A few months later, Maya gets a call from Michael Jordan.
I’ve followed the league for 15 years and I’ve seen great players get airtime. People who weren’t fans of women’s basketball would know the names: Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoops, Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, and even Nikki Blue. But that wouldn’t bring people to games, and that didn’t keep the WNBA on television or expand it’s the viewership significantly. The Houston Comets folded a few years after winning the first 3 WNBA championships.
I hope that Maya Moore’s name recognition (among men) might bring some attention to the league, to women in professional sports, to a league that has grown and changed in the last 15 years from one where I was happy if they just made it up the floor on them rusty knees, to a game where you’re constantly asking “how did she do that?” But I’m not convinced she’ll single handedly change the way (mostly men) view women’s professional basketball. They’ll respect her, but not the sport. There needs to be substantive changes in the way that women who play sports are treated, they way that people think about them, and Maya Moore can’t do that alone.
Maya has big shoes to fill, those Jordans, and it will be exciting to watch her this summer as she plays against the best female basketball players in the world in the WNBA. They will be gunning for her. Could she do what Candace Parker did in 2008 and win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same year? Let’s watch and find out.
If you’re really interested in getting to know the WNBA, look here for updates. I’ll keep tabs on Maya Moore’s progress, and other WNBA athletes this summer and link you to other bloggers sharing great WNBA content!