If the WNBA did not exist and women did not have an outlet to play professional basketball, it might be amusing to consider Brittney Griner as an NBA player. As it stands, however, entertaining the notion of Griner on an NBA roster is nonsense.
Skills are not transferable. As a 6-foot-8 star center at Baylor, Griner towered over her opponents during her college playing days. When she received the ball in the low post, she could operate with impunity by virtue of her height advantage. She would enjoy no such edge in the NBA.
“She’s a post player, she’s 6-8 but with a small frame compared to a man’s frame at that position,” said Ann Meyers Drysdale, a former basketball star and now vice president of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, according to USA Today.
While in college Griner established marks for the most blocked shots and the most dunks ever recorded by a woman. But because the men in the NBA are so much bigger than the women she competed against, she would not be successful at shot-blocking or dunking in the NBA.
Griner could not even play center in the NBA. She would have to be a small forward or a power forward, and she did not develop the perimeter game needed for those two positions while playing the post in college. She does not have the ball-handling skills or the ability to create her own shot that would be necessary. She also lacks foot-speed, quickness and leaping ability when compared to male players.
Mark Cuban is a modern day P.T. Barnum. It was Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, who stirred up this debate when he said he would consider drafting Griner. Cuban is a master at promotion, but this would amount to a gimmick and a sham. Griner would sit on the bench and come into the game as a sideshow. She would be used merely as a novelty to sell tickets and not as a contributing member of the club.
Basketball is a different size. To accommodate the smaller women’s hand, the basketball for the women’s game ranges from 28.5 inches to 29 inches in circumference, whereas the basketball in the men’s game is between 29.5 and 30 inches, according to layups.com. This is one of the reasons women seem to shoot free throws better than men; they are throwing a smaller object through the cylinder. Griner would need to adjust to a larger ball.
Not a Jackie Robinson. Griner would be presented as a great pioneer along the lines of Jackie Robinson. But Robinson was a trailblazer who broke the color barrier and gave opportunities for players who were just as good as major league ballplayers, and often better, to play at the highest levels of competition. Griner would be trying to overcome anatomical differences, not racial prejudice.
Not a Billie Jean King either. Much was made of Billie Jean King whipping Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in 1973. This restored order after Riggs had already decisively defeated Margaret Court, perhaps the greatest female player of all time. But it proved nothing. Riggs had once been a number one player in the world, but he was 55 years old by the time he played King, who was 30. Chris Evert raised eyebrows around that time by admitting she could not beat any of the top active 100 players on the male tennis tour. Her remarks flew in the face of King’s victory, but she was only acknowledging the obvious.
Much ado was also made when Annika Sorenstam, then the top-ranked female golfer in the world, played in the 2003 Colonial Invitational on the men’s PGA tour. After a very emotional two days, Sorenstam missed the cut. Despite the whole world rooting for her and urging her to try it again in another male event, Sorenstam correctly judged that she belonged only on the LPGA tour, which she continued to dominate until her retirement.
Help the WNBA. Despite putting on an attractive product fueled by very talented players, the WNBA has often struggled financially and has had to rely upon the NBA for its existence. This year there are two immensely gifted players who will be ready to join the WNBA and lead it forward. They are Griner and the charismatic and talented Skylar Diggins from Notre Dame. They will undoubtedly be drafted one and two in the WNBA draft. The best thing Griner can do is go where she is needed, and that is to the WNBA. She would be an immediate star and a leader of her team. If she chose the NBA and tried to compete against the men, she would be a bench warmer, a sad spectacle, and a publicity stunt.