MJ. Magic. Bird. LeBron. Kobe. Kareem. Wilt. It’s not hard to name some of the best NBA basketball players of all-time. Just about everybody knows at least one NBA great and the basketball GOAT argument is one of the most controversial in sports. Basketball is the 2nd-most popular sport in the world, according to https://www.pledgesports.org/2017/06/10-most-popular-sports-in-the-world/ and http://www.totalsportek.com/most-popular-sports/. But ask any average Joe to name a current WNBA player and see how much he doesn’t know/care. On a popular app version of Would You Rather?, 84% of voters prefer to find $5 on the ground than have their local WNBA team win the championship this season. So why does nobody care about basketball when women play?
Nobody cares about the WNBA. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration. But not by much. In terms of viewership, televised WNBA games average approximately 200,000-500,000 per regular season games. Televised NBA games average almost 1.5 million viewers per game. To put that in perspective, PBA Tour bowling on ESPN averages between 600,000-850,000 viewers. That means that twice as many people watch grown men roll a heavy ball for two hours than women’s basketball.
Some people will argue that the caliber of talent and skill in the WNBA is nowhere near what it is in the NBA. Fair enough. Men are better athletes than women. That’s a scientific fact. Argue it all you want, but it’s the truth. However, you can’t simply blame the athleticism level for the popularity gap. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final between the United States and Japan is, in terms of TV viewership, the most popular soccer game in U.S. history with somewhere around 23 million viewers, more so than the 2015 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cavaliers, which averaged 20 million viewers across the half dozen games (https://qz.com/445626/the-womens-world-cup-final-drew-more-us-network-tv-viewers-than-the-mens-final/).
The main factor that hinders the WNBA is the entertainment value. It’s just not as exciting (which one could argue the NBA isn’t all that entertaining at the moment either). Recently, Layshia Clarendon of the Atlanta Dream recorded a triple double. 15 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds. A solid day at the office. The downside is, she’s only the sixth woman to ever record a triple-double in WNBA history. That’s right, only SIX women have put up those kinds of numbers EVER. For comparison, twenty-three different NBA players recorded a triple-double LAST SEASON. Eleven of those players recorded more than one. Only 5 women in WNBA history have ever dunked (if you wanna see the best non-dunk play in women’s basketball history, you’re welcome: http://thebiglead.com/2016/08/10/wanna-see-a-360-layup/).
Unfortunately for the WNBA, things aren’t looking up. With the recent assembly of some wannabe superteams, the 2017-2018 NBA season is one of the most anticipated in recent history. So unless there’s a Stephanie Curry or LaWanda James somewhere, the WNBA has nothing to offer that the NBA doesn’t do better. But you have to give those women credit. They obviously aren’t playing professional basketball for fame and fortune, but rather a deep love and passion for the game. Gotta give ’em props for something, I guess.