W Debate: Contest not a slam dunk
Question: Brittney Griner is excited about the thought of the WNBA adding a dunk contest to its All-Star weekend festivities. Would it be a good idea or a bad idea?
Graham Hays: I'll admit, I'm more conflicted about this question than I would have imagined being on Saturday morning. My initial and still prevailing thought is a dunk contest is just a bad idea. Women's basketball doesn't need to try to copy every detail of men's basketball. It really doesn't need to copy things from men's basketball that stopped being entertaining around the same time Brittney Griner was born. Even on the men's side, the dunk contest fit a specific time in history -- and it wasn't a time when just about every dunk ever flushed was available at the click of a button. I don't see how a dunk contest on the women's side reverses that slide into a state of blah.
So why my waffling? Because other than perhaps the pregame dance contest in the middle of the court, I don't think the players themselves showed as much excitement during any part of Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game as they did during some impromptu dunking from the Western Conference during layup lines before the game. Players on both teams wanted to see if Glory Johnson would throw one down (she did). They were into it. The All-Star Game is supposed to be for the fans, but as you discussed in your story, Kate, it's the players who have to give up what little time off they might have during the season to trek somewhere (usually Connecticut) for the game.
I don't think it's a good idea, but if players agree with Griner, I'm not sure it's tremendously harmful, either.
Kate Fagan: Well, Graham, you covered a lot of ground right there ...
To me, the real question is: Are there enough women who can really throw down? In order for this to work, there would need to be at least six WNBA players who can truly dunk. We know Griner and Candace Parker can do some creative jams. Are there four more players? (Can Glory Johnson dunk dunk, or only occasionally in warm-ups?) Because the last thing the women's game needs is a dunk contest in which the women miss most of their attempts, or are barely dunking the ball.
Also, I'd challenge the league and players to find a way to separate the WNBA dunk contest from the one the men hold. Please don't have former players on the sideline holding up placards with "10" on them. Think of a different, creative way to present the event. The WNBA needs to hold itself to a higher creative standard; it can't just do exactly what the NBA does all of the time and expect people not to compare the two products.
Also, going off on a bit of a tangent, I'd love to see a one-on-one contest at next year's WNBA All-Star Game, with the winner taking home $10,000. Find a sponsor for the event. I think the NBA All-Star Game works without cutthroat competition because people are there to see the high-flying athleticism. People like the women's game because their skills are so sharp and they play so hard.
Those attributes need to be put on display, too.
GH: Agreed, it seems like one-on-one or even two-on-two could be a lot of fun (mix in the college allegiances and give Connecticut fans a chance to see Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore play together or the same for Tennessee fans with Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings). Presumably, teams, agents and maybe even players wouldn't be thrilled about additional injury risk, especially if there is decent money on the line, but that's getting a little deep in the details. I think your tangent is actually right on point. If there is a need to add elements to the All-Star Game, and it's far from clear that need exists, there are so many better options than a dunk contest.
This doesn't fall at Griner's feet. She was asked a question and gave an honest answer, much like the whole brouhaha over her answering questions about playing in the NBA summer league. She might well be fun to watch in a dunk contest. But a skills competition is best when it showcases players who do things better than the majority of their peers, not when it showcases a small number of players who do things their peers can't.
KF: Bingo. I'd love to see them set up events (one-on-one or two-on-two or a 3-point contest) that display the skill and competitiveness of these players, while also introducing some storylines to the public. For example, I'd love to see the finals of the one-on-one be Taurasi against her former teammate, Cappie Pondexter of the New York Liberty. And since we're going all-out here, how about we have Los Angeles host next year's event, and we can hold these skills competitions outside at the L.A. Live complex?
So, will you forward this email chain to the WNBA league offices, or should I?