2 dunks won't win over those who slam the women's game

OTHER VOICES

March 21, 2006|By MILTON KENT

A couple schools of thought have emerged in the wake of Tennessee forward Candace Parker's two dunks in Sunday's first-round NCAA tournament win over Army.

The first is that the dunks are the first step along the way toward women's basketball's being taken seriously by the casual American sports fan, with the second being that they really weren't dunks, but rather glorified layups.

In the end, neither thought is really important. For that matter, neither were the dunks, especially for those who are true fans of the sport.

If Parker's dunks - the second of which was one-handed off a give-and-go along the baseline - are what's needed to raise the sport's profile, then the game is already doomed, because the ability to jam a basketball through the hoop isn't a part of the women's game.

I am an admitted basketball junkie and have been since I was a boy, getting special dispensation to stay up to watch television the night Gus Johnson broke a backboard during a Baltimore Bullets game.

And to paraphrase Diana Ross, if there's a cure for my sickness, I'll run from it.

There's not a night during the winter where I'm not catching at least 30 minutes of some variation of an NBA or men's college basketball game. But I will gladly forgo either to watch a good women's game (and, no, that is not an oxymoron).

The reason? I get all the pathos, emotion and strategy that basketball has to offer without the preening and posturing of the men's game. I actually prefer a game in which the winning team might make five or fewer three-pointers, because I know that each one means something - rather than, say, last year's men's championship game, in which Illinois might still be chucking up threes if the horn hadn't sounded.

Enjoying women's basketball doesn't mean that I don't like men's ball. I just want something different. And that's what women's basketball is now, something different.

The fact is, Parker isn't the first woman to dunk in an NCAA game. West Virginia's Georgeann Wells took care of that 22 years ago. Heck, Parker isn't even the first Lady Vol to dunk in a game; Michelle Snow did it three times.

The other woman to dunk while in college was North Carolina's Charlotte Smith, and her greatest collegiate achievement wasn't the 1995 dunk, but the three-pointer she hit at the horn to win the 1994 national championship, the last true walk-off championship-winning shot since Lorenzo Charles' dunk for North Carolina State in 1983.

My suspicion is that most of those who say that Parker's dunks - impressive though they might be - show the women's game has athleticism aren't people who would be regular fans, anyway. In their minds, there would always be some knock on the women's game that would keep them from watching but wouldn't detract them from criticizing the game and those who love it.

It's high time, in fact, that the NCAA and the WNBA stop bending themselves into knots in attempts to get "Joe Six-Pack," as it were, to come to women's basketball. He has seen Ann Meyers and Nancy Lieberman and Cheryl Miller and Sheryl Swoopes and Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi. If he hasn't made his way into the tent yet, there's a pretty good chance that he'll never get there.

Truth be told, there's a market for women's ball, namely families with young children, older fans, African-American families, that may not be the standard, listen-to-talk-radio, live-for-SportsCenter sports fan. And that's just fine.

As for whether the dunks were really dunks; well, yes, they were. They may not have been Dr. J taking off from the foul line or Vince Carter going reverse 360 or even Nate Robinson, the most recent slam dunk champion, who missed 14 before connecting, but they were dunks.

To those who say they weren't, you can't have it both ways. You can't decry the supposed lack of athleticism in women's basketball, then pooh-pooh something that is a reflection of athleticism, even if it doesn't resemble the way a man would do it.

And that's the point: Women's basketball isn't men's basketball, nor should it be. If women's basketball is vanilla ice cream in a land of rocky road, so what? It's still ice cream. It doesn't have to be your particular flavor to taste good.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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