If these stars play after college, it won't be in the U.S. Women still have no pro league

April 04, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- Here's a dream come true for an lottery-bound NBA general manager looking for a draftable player who can put bodies in the seats and victories in the ledger:

A forward with outstanding post-up moves and great outside range. The player, honored nationally as the best in the sport, comes without any hint of scandal and has remarkable skills with the media and a wealth of personality.

If this seems tailor-made for, say, the Washington Bullets, there is one slight problem, for the player described is Sheryl Swoopes, a 6-foot-1 senior from Texas Tech.

And while Swoopes, the Player of the Year in women's basketball, has the temperament and ability to make a perfect professional basketball player, neither she nor any other woman will be playing for pay in the United States because there is no league for them.

"It bothers me, but I've come to accept it," said Swoopes. "It's been that way forever. Maybe, by the year 2000 or 3000, we'll get a professional women's league here."

With the slow, but building acceptance of women's basketball in this country, Swoopes' second date may be closer to the mark than the first.

Judith Holland, chairwoman of the Division I basketball committee, reported last week that attendance for this year's tournament had surpassed that of last year's tournament -- and that was before tickets for the sold-out Final Four at the 16,000-seat Omni here were counted.

Sellouts were reported this season all over the country, including a capacity crowd of 15,000 at Vanderbilt, for its February meeting with Tennessee, a game matching No. 1 and No. 2. Last year's Maryland-Virginia game at Cole Field House, No. 1 vs. No. 2, also was a sellout.

That success hasn't been translated into a professional league, but not for lack of effort.

Several attempts to start a women's professional basketball league have failed for reasons including poor financing and relative lack of interest in larger areas.

"I don't think enough people who had enough talents or RTC wherewithal have attempted it, and it hasn't been successful," Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster said. "I hope at some point in the future that those who have all the pieces will think seriously enough about it to give it a run."

A Los Angeles-based promoter sent a fax to newspapers in February, heralding the spring introduction of a Ladies Professional Basketball Association, but repeated phone calls to the number provided were not returned, and people connected with women's basketball reported no knowledge of the proposed league.

Two promoters, Doug Verb and Jim Drucker, who proposed the Liberty Basketball Association last winter, have announced plans reform the six-team league next winter.

But many are skeptical of the LBA because of Verb's and Drucker's proposed changes, which include a lowering of the basket to facilitate dunks, a shorter court, a smaller ball and spandex uniforms to draw attention to the players' bodies.

The NBA has reportedly been interested in sponsoring a women's league. Commissioner David Stern expressed that *T interest at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, before the heavily favored U.S. women lost in the semifinals to the Unified Team.

However, an NBA spokesman said in December that the league had no interest in a women's league.

Foster says Stern and USA Basketball president Dave Gavitt are keys to hopes of a women's league.

"Gavitt created the Big East and is familiar with the women's game through his affiliation as president of USA Basketball," Foster said. "And David Stern is a very visionary kind of administrator. If they could take time in the future and put a little time and thought and effort into what could work, I think it can work."

For years, American women have played in European leagues or in Japan after graduation.

But Japanese organizers have banned American players for at least a year from their leagues, citing a tightening financial market.

In addition, newly freed Eastern European players are flooding the French, Italian and Spanish leagues for cheaper wages, making it even more difficult for American women to find slots.

While nearly everyone connected with the women's game believes an American professional league should come, there is no unanimity on how or when it should be done.

ESPN analyst Mimi Griffin says that talk of a professional league should wait until the college game has been strengthened through the marketing of its stars.

"We can't have a professional league without personalities," Griffin said. "People don't relate to a game or a team. They relate to personalities. The NBA never really blossomed until Magic [Johnson] and Larry Bird and Michael Jordan became people that the general public could identify with. And until women's basketball does the same thing on the collegiate level, it won't work."

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