Mavs owner Mark Cuban made news recently when he said he would consider drafting Brittney Griner if she was the best player available in the NBA draft. He also suggested the less silly route of inviting her to be a part of the Mavericks summer league team.
Spending a draft pick on Griner would be maddening. She is 6’8″ but only 200 lbs and does not possess the lateral quickness to be a successful NBA player. To put it plainly, she isn’t big enough to handle post players and isn’t quick enough to guard the NBA guards or small forwards. It is just bad asset allocation to draft a player that can’t help you win games. Although, I did see one fan tweet something like “it wouldn’t be anymore a waste of a pick than Dominique Jones.”
However, inviting Griner to the NBA’s summer league is not a bad idea. Forgetting all the marketing advantages that most writers have been centering on, shouldn’t Griner be given the opportunity to test her skills at the highest level she can? Why do we get so angry at Michelle Wie or Annika Sorenstam when they get a PGA exemption? Women should be able to chase their dreams all the way to the top no matter what that means to them. If playing in the WNBA or making more money in Europe’s pro women’s leagues is what appeals to them, great. If they feel like the NBA is a higher level and they want to test themselves as athletes, go for it. There is nothing saying that NBA owners have to give them a shot.
Jason Whitlock made the point in his article on the topic that Griner’s brand would not be helped because she is 6’8″ and black, and wouldn’t be a sympathetic figure in the minds of sports fans. I disagree – I think that she would benefit from the move and that when she went back to the WNBA at least some fans would follow.
There is no doubt that I would follow Griner in the Summer League, and I don’t understand the fear of some people that she would get dunked on. Sure she would get dunked on, and she would get blown by, and she would have a hard time getting to a lot of rebounds, but remember, we are a SportsCenter society. ESPN would show Griner getting beat up a little in her first game, sure, but imagine if she hit double figures in scoring or rebounding in the second, or the Twitter overload when she inevitably blocks a shot.
There have been arguments not understanding why we always have to compare women’s sports to men’s, and that in doing so we are saying that women’s sports are not good enough. I disagree with that also. I love Diana Taurasi and everything she does in the WNBA, and Sue Bird and Swin Cash and Candace Parker and Maya Moore. This wouldn’t be about comparing the WNBA to the NBA – honestly everyone that watches both leagues knows the difference. This would be about allowing Griner to measure herself against the best players – male or female – in her sport. What athlete doesn’t want the chance to do that?
I don’t think that Brittney Griner will make an NBA roster. But I do think she could put on a heck of a show and as she said in her Twitter response to Cuban “hold her own.” I also think that she would improve both her game and her brand. Being an athlete is all about finding your limits and pushing them, and this is the ultimate in that. Griner doesn’t have to play in the NBA to legitimize herself; she should take a run at the league to test herself, and to help remove some of the limits for women in sports.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Mark Stein’s interview with perhaps the greatest women’s player of all-time, who both played in the NBA summer league and two seasons in a men’s minor league: Nancy Lieberman, “If she has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a once-in-a-lifetime guy (Cuban), she owes to herself to at least consider the suggestion. I would say do it. You can always go back to the WNBA. At worst, it makes her a better player and it highlights the history of the game.”