THERE USED TO BE A WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM HEREBy
Where were you on October 19, 2009? Future generations will one day ask this question. The Shock, our beloved and storied WNBA franchise, will abandon Detroit Auburn Hills for Tulsa. As in Oklahoma. Just as Brooklyn absorbed the gut punch of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland had to swallow the Baltimore Ravens winning a Super Bowl, Detroit will suffer the indignity of the Tulsa Shock. Or whatever they’ll call our former precious jewel of a woman’s basketball franchise.
We will all, of course, remember the glorious WNBA championships (2003, 2006, and 2008 according to Wikipedia) but this plucky franchise did so much more to lift our beleaguered spirits than simply winning championships. They kept us entertained.
Who can forget when some Detroit News business-side flack (at the behest of Palace Sports and Entertainment) ordered Jerry Green to replace Ty Cobb with Shock superstar Jennifer Azzi as the third greatest Detroit athlete of the 20th century? Azzi had, at that time of the honor, literally played one half of her only season with the Shock. Smash that glass ceiling, sister!
There there was famous Shock coach Nancy Lieberman’s dismissal because she (allegedly) was sleeping with the team’s starting two guard. Say what you will about the NBA but you never saw Pat Riley snogging James Worthy during the Showtime Lakers dynasty. This is the kind of drama one can only find in the WNBA. Fan-tastic!
We know you’re out there, solid progressives with corduroy blazers and public radio stickers on your Priuses, disgusted with our callow dismissal of the Detroit Shock. Fine. We can be sober and mature about the WNBA but you won’t like that either.
WNBA apologists can spin all they want but this league is a mess. Seven of the league’s thirteen championships are now held by teams that no longer exist (Detroit won three and Houston won four). Attendance has declined league-wide by almost 30% since it peaked in 1999.
But those numbers are soft. Free ticket vouchers were available for the defending WNBA champion Shock all over town. Even with free tickets and three championships, the Shock only drew about 8,000 fans to games. It’s hard to blame poor attendance on the economy when tickets are free.
Successful insurgent leagues worked because they served as laboratories for innovation. The ABA introduced the three-point line and the AFL changed football with motion offenses and the two-point conversion. Insurgent leagues located franchises in markets with few pro teams. The WNBA offered NBA towns a brand of pro basketball that differed little from the parent league except for gender.
This is a political obituary because the WNBA is more about politics than basketball. It was and is a cynical attempt by David Stern to capitalize on third-wave feminism and, despite the efforts by marketers and apologists, it hasn’t worked. The NBA sponsorship, rather than nurturing the WNBA, relegated the league to an unimpressive woman’s auxiliary of the main brand. It’s finished in Detroit and, once David Stern retires, the WNBA will probably fold altogether.
Unlike marketing campaigns, attendance figures and tv ratings don’t lie: this league doesn’t actually inspire that many young girls. Or anyone else. (MLive)