Fort Lauderdale There has got to be a better way to select the WNBA All-Star teams and still make fans, players and coaches happy.
While Monday's game at TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando sold out on Friday reaching its 16,906 ticket cap, the state of women's basketball is still struggling to reach the next level. Fan ignorance isn't helping matters.
l Example No. 1: Ruthie Bolton-Holifield has not started a game for the Sacramento Monarchs this season and is an All-Star starter. She is averaging 19.3 minutes a game and scoring 7.6 points per game with a 35.3 shooting percentage.
l Example No. 2: Katie Smith of the Minnesota Lynx, probably one of the best players in the league, is averaging 23.8 points a game, more than three times Bolton-Holifield's total and shooting 41.9 percent and isn't starting. What were fans thinking?
l Example No. 3: Washington Mystics guard Nikki McCray's star has fallen. Her game has slumped badly in the past three seasons. She is having a hard time comprehending first-year coach Tom Maher and his style of basketball. She is averaging 25.7 minutes a game and manages just 10 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.
l Example No. 4: Cleveland Rockers guard Merlakia Jones, who played at Florida, is playing a key role in the first-place Rockers success this season. She plays 32.8 minutes, averages 14.2 points on 45.2 percent shooting, and Friday night scored 22 points to lead her team to its 13th consecutive home victory, a 69-61 win over Phoenix. McCray over Jones?
l Example No. 5: Former Florida Atlantic All-American Yolanda Griffith of Sacramento was voted in ahead of Lisa Leslie, which defies logic. Leslie is averaging 18.8 points on 47.8 percent shooting and averaging 9.8 rebounds. Griffith is a little better on the boards (11.9 rpg) but is not even close in the scoring department (13.7 ppg). Because Leslie has a diva reputation, fans went with Griffith.
Vickie Johnson of New York is a good player but having a sub-par year and should not be starting. Of course, let's not forget two years ago when Rebecca Lobo, also of New York, was voted in after playing a whopping 42 seconds before blowing out her ACL. The Sol's Elena Baranova and Sheri Sam got overlooked in favor of Johnson because New York has the numbers when it comes to fans. Why rookie center Ruth Riley of the Sol, top vote-getter among the WNBA's rookies, was overlooked is another mind boggle.
Some of Monday night's All-Star starters illustrate the most fundamental problem with women's basketball. Fans support their home teams and favorite players. They do not support the game as a whole.
The All-Star game is not supposed to be a popularity contest. WNBA fans just seem clueless when it comes to the big picture. They either aren't getting enough information about other teams or just don't pay attention. Come on, Ruthie Bolton-Holifield and Nikki McCray. What are you thinking people?
Houston and Sacramento, two of the best teams in the league, played Tuesday night and only 7,170 fans showed up. What's up with that?
A serious red flag that league wide attendance is dropping and sponsors are noticing. The WNBA needs to do a better job of marketing to a larger audience. TV ratings have dipped and media coverage in most of the 16 WNBA cities has also slipped. Granted, the novelty of the league has worn off, but there has got to be a better way of marketing the league as a whole not just individual teams and players.
A wrong message
Lisa Harrison of the Phoenix Mercury is getting the kind of exposure the league and women's sports in general really doesn't need. Why is it necessary for women athletes to take their clothes off to make money or be noticed?
For the second year in a row, Playboy.com is holding its Sexiest Babes of the WNBA poll. Nine players and Orlando coach Carolyn Peck are listed on the site. After being inundated with publicity and interview requests, Harrison now says if she wins she will not bare all. Harrison leads by 4,488 votes. The poll ends Monday.
Said Harrison: "I think it's sad I get all this attention because of possibly being in Playboy as opposed to what I do on the court every day. Obviously I want exposure, but I'd appreciate it if it would come for my job, which is playing basketball."