Man Up, Bill Simmons

By Greg Esposito, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: March 14, 2013

When you say the name Bill Simmons, you usually evoke one of two responses: Extreme love or complete disdain. On most days you can count me squarely in the “extremely love” category. He weaves a unique blend of humor and pop culture into sports takes that are usually as well thought of and researched as they are zany. Along with that, he also does one of the best podcasts on the internet and runs the smartest sports site on the web. With all that said, today is not one of those days.

For a guy who penned the “Book of Basketball” he is like, to borrow a Simmons-esque analogy, the Two Face of the pro game. While he lauds the men’s game and provides brilliantly well-thought-out takes and opinions on the NBA’s past and how to improve its future, he devolves into a narrow-minded, borderline chauvinistic male when it comes to the women’s game.

Don’t take my word for it. Take his own words for it.

“Maybe you enjoy watching women playing basketball at the highest possible level -- a level that could roughly be compared to ‘a good intramural game at a Division 2 college, only if nobody could jump or dunk’ -- and find the WNBA strangely intoxicating. Who am I to judge? So you have to believe me: I'm not telling anyone to stop watching the WNBA. Really, I'm not.

Here's all I'm asking …

Let's end the ongoing charade that this is a mainstream sport.”

Would you have said the same thing in 1996 when the “fundamentally sound, but lacking athleticism” No. 13 seed Princeton Tigers defeated the superiorly athletic No. 4 seed UCLA Bruins in what could be described as a score (43-41) and strategy that was Division 2 intramural-esque? Of course not. Because it’s about the competition and the fact that the game was entertaining. That’s the same thing that makes the WNBA intersting.

Now, I’m not one to chastise someone for their opinion usually, especially someone paid to have one, because I have more than a few of my own and have been paid to express them in the past. But Simmon’s disdain for the WNBA is one I have to take issue with faster than a Star Wars fan gets upset with someone confusing their beloved movie with Star Trek.

You might be wondering why I’d bring this up now when Simmons hasn’t criticized the league in any recent columns. There is a reason. With the Mercury issuing the “Man Up/Cure the Cooties” challenge that has gained national attention, I thought it was only appropriate to issue a challenge of my own to one of the sport’s biggest and most recognizable detractors.

Mr. Simmons, I too once was a non-believer in the WNBA. I thought the game would be way too slow and the idea of fundamental basketball excited me less than the thought of Crystal Pepsi and New Coke excited soda fans in the 1990s. That all changed when I got to sit courtside for a Phoenix Mercury game and saw the physical play up close and the world-class athletic display that Diana Taurasi put on for the amped-up crowd.

You won’t see me with a foam finger or rocking a Penny Taylor jersey to a game, but you will see me from time to time enjoying one in the stands with my wife. I’ve developed an appreciation for the players, the hard work they put in and their knowledge of the game. Sure, they’re not the men, but they’ve never pretended to be. They put on their own entertaining brand of ball.

We live in a society that wants to “embrace debate” and compare anything that has any similar characteristics. Especially in sports. But would you compare your offspring? Would you truly look at them and decide which was better based on surface traits and assumptions? The NBA and WNBA are both descendants of the great James Naismith but, like any relatives, they have their own distinct characteristics and personality. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Both just want respect on their own merits.

With this April’s draft featuring three of the most athletic and talented women to ever play the game (and the Mercury with the No. 1 pick), the team and the game are about to hit levels never seen before.

So with that in mind, here is my challenge to you. Come to a Mercury game this summer. I’ll buy you any seat you want in the building. If you don’t walk away even slightly impressed, write whatever you want about the experience regardless of how harsh you want it to be. Although, I doubt you’ll want to.

Why not “Man up?” What do you have to lose? Who knows, maybe you’ll gain a new respect for the game and I can be fully in your camp. That and maybe you’ll find something you and your daughter can have a shared interest in that isn’t played on ice.

If you want to accept my offer, feel free to tweet me @Espo or send me an email.