The fans and the television viewers seem to be ignoring that much of the play in the WNBA has been sloppy, with numerous turnovers and fairly low shooting percentages. Many observers say the American Basketball League, which opened play last fall, signed the majority of the country's most talented women's players with the lure of higher salaries.
"The WNBA with 'no talent' is drawing 9,000. It's unbelievable," said Georgia Tech women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato.
No definitive demographic data are available on exactly who is attending WNBA games, where ticket prices average about $15. Anecdotally, though, a large portion of its audience appears to be working women and families with younger children.
"We were targeting existing basketball fans," said Ackerman, who estimated that the fans are roughly 60 percent female. "We had hoped to reach active women, and we hoped to reach kids -- boys and girls."
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all so far is the success of the Liberty, which won its first seven games and has maintained the best record in the league.
In the tough New York market, the Liberty has held its ground among the more established summertime baseball fare of the Yankees and Mets. Fans credit the team's hard-nosed defense, the star quality of Lobo, the heroine of the unbeaten 1995 Connecticut national championship team, and the crowd-pleasing antics of point guard Teresa Weatherspoon.
Weatherspoon, a 5-foot-8, two-time Olympian, played professionally in Europe before the WNBA arrived. Now, she leads the league in steals, assists and high-fiving spectators. She said the crowds have come for something more than merely rooting for the home team.
"The first home game of each team, people came out to see what it would be like," said Weatherspoon. "But the true basketball people, the ones who really love this game, knew that these women could play this game. [They feel] 'It's finally happening for them, so I'm going to be there to support it.' "
It's that kind of spirit that got Maria Gonzalez to make the 90-minute trek to the Garden from her home near Poughkeepsie, with her 6-year-old son, Shawn, and a neighbor in tow.
Gonzalez, who said she wasn't a fan of women's basketball before the Liberty began playing, brought a sign that read, "The men couldn't do it, so the women must," a reference to the Knicks' failure to win the NBA championship.
No matter how the Liberty finishes, Gonzalez said, their presence and that of the WNBA is important for women.
"It's history, and it's about time," said Gonzalez, a teacher. "We've come a long way, and women still haven't been acknowledged in any field as much as they should be. It's about time. I'm just glad that I lived to see it."
Pub Date: 8/12/97