By Jeremy O’Neill
My high school men’s and women’s basketball teams had very different experiences in multiple aspects of the sport. Like many high schools, the men’s team was treated with much more pomp and circumstance, funding, and support from fans. I remember watching a men’s game, and then sitting quietly as almost all of the fans in attendance left as the women’s team filled on to the court to begin their warm-ups.
As far as I could tell, there was one main difference between the two teams, besides gender: the women’s team had the best player in the country— Sabrina Ionescu—and the men’s team didn’t. But based on the first difference, the California fans couldn’t seem to be bothered to stay and watch the women compete. And they put on a much better show from a purely basketball perspective. Yes, the men were jumping higher and throwing dunks that made the fans get out of their seats. But the women’s team ran their plays with detail and accuracy, passed well, and played solid defense.
After watching hundreds of basketball games in person at all levels, I would have to say that there were three players who truly left me speechless, as if they had a 6th sense about how to control the ball and make it dance. Those three are Steve Nash, Stephen Curry, and Sabrina Ionescu. Watching Ionescu play at Miramonte High School truly changed my perspective on basketball both athletically and socially.
The average salary in the NBA is around $7.7 Million, while average salary for the WNBA (the league’s women’s basketball equivalent) is around $130,000. Is that because NBA players are that much more talented? Work that much harder? Of course not. While I realize that factors such as marketing and sponsorships are what have contributed to this discrepancy, coupled with years of institutionalized sexism in sports, that discrepancy is still shocking.
Women’s basketball deserves the same level of credit as men’s basketball; the question is how to make that happen. Every time a truly dominant women’s player comes through college, like Ionescu or Brittney Griner, there is a question of whether she could play in the NBA, and therefore open up access to the NBA’s wealth and popularity to a new demographic of people. Then the same comments come through from various coaches and players claiming that a woman would not be able to compete with the size and physicality of modern NBA players.
To that, I would have to highlight men’s players such as Allen Iverson, Isaiah Thomas, and Nate Robinson. These men succeeded not because of their physical stature, but because of their skills with a basketball. I see no reason why Sabrina Ionescu couldn’t make the same impact on the NBA as these players.
The NBA has been making an effort to include more women in high-profile positions, with female assistant coaches and referees becoming more commonplace. The NBA recently lost David Stern and Kobe Bryant, two figures who worked to give women’s basketball more credibility and popularity.
The perfect way to honor their legacy, and more importantly the legacy of all of the great female basketball players throughout history, would be to give Sabrina Ionescu a shot in the NBA. The players are the focus of the league, which prides itself on diversity, so it only makes sense to include some of the exceptional women’s basketball players out there in its vast financial and cultural influence. It has worked for the Harlem Globetrotters, why not the Brooklyn Nets?