It's about getting a chance

New Orleans

Gary Washburn, a basketball writer at the Boston Globe, posed the question four years ago in print, unaware that Mark Cuban would later wonder the same thing:

Would an NBA team be tempted to develop Brittney Griner at power forward?

Most of the hardwood intelligentsia dismissed Washburn's premise, much the way they dismiss women's basketball. Funny, though, how he turned prophetic this week after Cuban said he'd consider drafting Griner to the Dallas Mavericks.

It's become a cause célèbre within the women's game, opinions blowing about like hot dog wrappers at the ballpark. And most fall into the following two categories:

Categorical dismissal of Griner from the forever wrong, but always confident tough guys who refuse to acknowledge women's basketball's growth and act as though the mere utterance of the words "women's basketball" is a societal affront.

Or the game's proprietary foofs whose oversensitivties turn every perceived slight into a growling ax murderer of the women's sports revolution.

It is neither, of course.

And the best perspectives come from the game's most important voices this side of Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt: Doris Burke, Rebecca Lobo and Kara Lawson, who have helped legitimize the game with their earnestness, wit and acumen on ESPN.

They were all in the same room Saturday at New Orleans Arena, site of the Final Four, the game's annual cotillion.

• Lobo: "I didn't take offense. Mark Cuban is a brilliant marketing guy who has gotten a bunch of attention for this. If I'm Brittney Griner, who plays against guys all the time, I'd love a shot at training camp. I don't think we have to break every single thing down into a man/woman thing. Hopefully she'll play in the WNBA, but if she went and played a couple of weeks in (an NBA) summer league, what harm would that do? It's not like it's killing a women's movement.

"Plus," Lobo said, "you could go No. 1 in the WNBA for 50 grand, or whatever it is, or I could make 700 grand if Cuban is willing to use a roster spot. It's not a man/woman thing, it's a bank account thing."

• Burke: "I don't know what Mark's motivation is. He strikes me as a decent man. I know there are skeptics out there who think he's trying to draw attention to himself. But he can do that in a thousand different ways. He doesn't need to call attention to Brittney Griner. He can scream at officials or challenge David Stern.

"Brittney Griner has endured more ugliness and than any other athlete I've ever covered. She's handled it, outside of the punch (her freshman year) with great equanimity. If she's willing to open herself up to all the consequences that would come and give it a go, more power to her. I don't think she can play in the NBA. But I wouldn't want to deny her the chance. I've been given opportunities other women haven't. The only thing I worry about is the skepticism that might come from it or the ugliness that might come from it."

Burke scratched the issue exactly where it itches. This is not a question of whether Griner can do it. It's doubtful she can. It's about opportunity. It's about spitting in the eye of all the guy talk and taking your chance.

And yet it's vexing how many people who should know better can't find the bandwidth to escape such a narrow interpretation.

Can Griner guard Dwight Howard? Of course not. What might Griner hear from Kevin Garnett? Gulp. But it becomes irrelevant if 1) an owner wants to spend six figures on her; and 2) she is strong enough to endure the darts.

Some women's coaches bristle at the premise that the women's game must be compared to the men's game to achieve legitimacy. DePaul coach Doug Bruno calls it "the classic example of a male evaluation of the women's game."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma: "I guess this means that Annika Sorenstam could only be judged on what she did if she won on the PGA Tour, because what she did in the LPGA didn't count. And that Serena Williams. She's no good until she beats Roger Federer. Is that what they're saying?"

That's what they're saying. Note the word "saying." Griner was the subject of discussions all over various airwaves this week, airwaves that ignore women's basketball. So what if the immortal Evan Roberts on WFAN pronounced her name, "Grin-YAY." It's an example of how far the game must travel and how far it has come, all in one mispronunciation. The larger point: At this stage of the game's growth, publicity is a necessity.

Maybe it's best to leave you with the thoughts of Miami Heat forward Shane Battier:

"There's no doubt that in our lifetime, there will be a woman NBA player," Battier told Thursday. "I don't know if it's Griner or if it's someone who is 5 years old right now. But we'll see it. It'll happen in our lifetime."

All because this yet unnamed woman was given the chance.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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