Women's league's success not skintight

February 20, 1991|By Michelle Kaufman | Michelle Kaufman,Knight-Ridder

AUBURN HILLS, NICH. — AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Women dunked basketballs.

Men complained about the sight of women in skintight unitards.

A pack of men entered a women's locker room, and nobody shrieked.

It was a curious Presidents' Day at the Palace. Gloria Steinem would have had a field day.

The Liberty Basketball Association, a new professional league for women, made its debut Monday afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 10,753 -- all crammed into one side of the arena for the sake of ESPN's cameras.

In some ways, the game was no different from the one Detroit Pistons fans saw several hours later. It was fast-paced and high-scoring (For the record: the Detroit Dazzlers beat the LBA All-Stars, 104-87). Players gave the game every ounce of their sweat. Fouls were hard.

And, just like at Pistons games, fans got most excited when three video dots raced around the scoreboard screen. Oh, yes, they also screamed both times the electricity went out.

But in some ways, the LBA game was nothing like its NBA counterpart.

Start with the equipment. NBA goals stand 10 feet, LBA baskets are 9 feet 2. A regulation NBA basketball is 28 inches around and made of leather, the LBA's is 25 inches and rubber. An NBA court is 94 feet, four feet longer than the LBA court.

The modifications made for a more exciting style than women's basketball fans might be used to.

"It was the most fun I've ever had playing a basketball game," said Monica Lattin, a 6-foot-5 center from Houston who slammed the game's first dunk. "I got real defensive when I first heard about this league. I thought, what are they doing to basketball? But now I can see what the organizers envisioned."

Laurie Byrd of Flint, Mich., a four-year veteran of European basketball, won Most Valuable Player with 25 points on 12-of-20 shooting. She, too, enjoyed the game.

"I love running the floor, so it was perfect for me," she said. "Usually, a women's game is much slower."

As for salaries . . . well, what do you expect? The 22 players selected for Monday's debut made $250 for the week's work. A $100 bonus went to each Dazzler for winning the game.

And the uniforms. Ah, the uniforms. The LBA's lycra-based, form-fitting unitards have been the target of debate since the league announced its inception. League founder Jim Drucker insisted they were "attractive without being offensive." He also said they were more comfortable than the loose-fitting shorts and tanks synonymous with basketball.

Players don't buy the sales pitch. They tugged at riding pants legs all afternoon.

"They were very uncomfortable," said Cary McGehee, a guard and an attorney with Kelman, Loria, et. al., in Detroit. "I'm not going to be naive. I feel there was some level of exploitation in the decision to wear these, but they were borderline, so I decided to play.

"But these are aerobic uniforms, not basketball uniforms, and we're not in Jane Fonda's class. Even those of us that are thin don't necessarily want to be running around in these. If they want a new, sleek look, fine. There is some room between baggy and skintight."

Lattin didn't tell her husband about the uniforms.

"He kept telling me, 'Go, go, go,' but if he saw these outfits, he may not have wanted me to play," she said. "I'm sure he was surprised when he turned on the TV. The bottom line is, me and the other women here take basketball very seriously. I want to be known as a ballplayer, not as a ballplayer with a nice butt and hips. If they're here to sell the curves, I'll be disappointed."

Fans didn't find the uniforms appealing, either.

"I love the style of play but, boy, I hate the uniforms," said Fred Shaw, 48, head coach of the girls basketball team at St. Clair High in Michigan. "I don't think they're attractive at all, and they seem too tight to be comfortable."

Gwen Kollmorgan, a 6-foot senior center at St. Clair, echoed her coach: "I would never wear it. I wear big shirts and long shorts. The bigger, the better."

Of the 10 fans interviewed, 10 complained about the uniforms.

Drucker and his associates will examine the debut and begin planning for the regular season, which begins in December.

McGehee, 28, probably won't have time to play but she'll never forget her LBA experience.

"I'll be an old lady and I'll show the tape of this game to my grandchildren and say I was a part of history, and they'll say, 'Grandma, what was that horrible uniform you were wearing?' "

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