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Battle Of The Sexes: Can Women Be Successful In The NBA?

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In 1999 Gatorade launched it’s memorable  “anything better than you” campaign featuring NBA superstar Michael Jordan and soccer legend Mia Hamm. The commercial pitted the two head–to-head to determine the age-old question: Who is better, boys or girls?  From the basketball court to the soccer field, fencing, tennis, track, and karate, Jordan and Hamm went through all these events in an epic battle of the sexes.

Now fast-forward to 2014, an era where the gap between the two sexes seems closer than ever. But is it really? Last April, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made waves by suggesting that he would be open to selecting 6’8″ Baylor center Brittney Griner in the second round of the 2013 NBA draft to compete against the men.

“Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it,” Cuban said.

Well Mr. Cuban, physics and logic would suggest otherwise.

It’s not a matter of skill or intelligence as much as it is a strength and size problem. The physicality of the men’s game would eliminate almost any fundamental advantage that a female player could possibly bring to an NBA court.  Is it possible for a woman to beat a man one-on-one in a game of basketball? Absolutely. I’ve had my fair share of on-court victories versus men, and even New York Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter defeated NBA guard Sebastian Telfair in an exhibition showing, but the question remains: Can a woman be successful playing in the NBA?


According to Giants: The 25 Greatest Centers of All Time, the average center in the NBA is between 6’10 and 7’3, weighing about 257 pounds on average. Brittney Griner weighs 208 pounds and stands 6’8ft.  The discrepancy is telling. Offensively, she is the first NCAA basketball player to end her career with 2,000 points and 500 blocks.  Griner managed to dominate the women’s game while at Baylor with her footwork and finesse style of play, but she did so playing against other centers that ranged between 5’10 and 6’5.

Although she is one of very few females that have the ability to dunk, she does not even match up with the average center in the NBA, in which she would lose that leverage in competition. She would be forced to match-up with power forwards. The power forwards in the NBA would still have the size advantage over Griner, and the small forwards would have the speed and the skills that she does not possess.

Let’s not forget about the obvious difference between men’s and women’s basketball, the ball. The men and women ball differ in size. The women’s basketball is lighter than the men’s and can easily throw off a woman’s game. Some would argue using the men’s ball is better for your game, but when you are getting knocked around inside with the big guys, the ball would be the least of your worries.

Centers are not the only position in basketball. When you hear the names Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Tamika Catchings, just to name a few guards who currently have very successful careers in the WNBA- their style of play is more readily adaptable to the perimeter-oriented game favored in the NBA. Could the transition be easier for them?

Unlikely, and according to legendary basketball Hall of Fame inductee Nancy Lieberman, it is possible to have “average” success professionally with and against men.

Lieberman spoke on her experience in an interview. “I was extraordinarily average on my best days. And I was a point guard, so I could stay away from the physicality of the game and still do some of my job, which was IQ, passing, running the team. I always had somebody chasing me who was quick, but I wasn’t getting knocked over or elbowed everywhere. I can tell you from experience, you cannot compensate for the physical difference. But [playing with men] made me see the game better, think the game better, understand the game better, be more efficient with the game. There’s not one day that I ever thought, I shouldn’t do this.”

Who wakes up in the morning and says, “I want to be average today?” The answer to that is clearly on one. Sure, a female trying out for an NBA team is awesome and would revolutionize the game.

At the end of the tunnel there is a light and that light shows physiologically women do not compare to men. Women should and would not settle on just being “average” in a sport that both men and women work hard to perfect. Women should continue to strive for improvement on their performance and continue to make each other better. Priority needs to be making women’s basketball the best it can be. We should appreciate women’s basketball, female basketball players, and other elite female athletes. It’s time to forget whether women can be successful in the NBA and time to think about how we can make improvements on the growth of professional women’s basketball.


Britteny Griner image via: Creative Commons

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