Saturday, July 3rd, 2004
When is a woman posing topless not a woman posing topless?
When she's doing it for art, of course.
That's why thousands of men who can't even draw a stick figure on a bar napkin signup for painting classes every semester: to see women who won't doff their tops at a keg party, but who will stand in front of a room for three hours for the sake of "art."
Here's another question: has WNBA President Val Ackerman ever actually seen an issue of Playboy?
In response to Seattle Storm player Lauren Jackson's nude photos in an Australian "art" magazine, Ackerman basically defined art as anything millions of American husbands would not sneak into the bathroom with them.
"What Lauren did seems somewhat different from something like Playboy," Ackerman told The Washington Post. "As we understand it, this book celebrates a multitude of athletes, and it was an honor for her to be included. She did it herself. It didn't involve the WNBA."
Hmmm ... "celebrates a multitude of athletes?" Playboy has featured a volleyball player (Gabrielle Reece), a figure skater (Katarina Witt), and a boxer (Mia St. John).
Hmmm ... "was an honor for her to be included?" Walk into any pub in the United States, tell the barkeep the month and year of your Playboy spread, and you and your posse (that's posse, people) are swimming in free booze until last call. Now THAT'S an honor.
Hmmm ... "She did it herself. It didn't involve the WNBA." Wonder if Ackerman would have said the same thing if Jackson went the Paris Hilton route?
This endorsement of Jackson's nude modeling is a reversal from Ackerman's previous statements about WNBA players not being viewed as "sex objects."
Ackerman, during the 2003 controversy over Playboy.com's "Sexiest Babe of the WNBA" poll, said that "there is a difference between celebrating the athletic attributes of the female athlete and objectifying her."
So if the same black-and-white nude shots of Jackson that were in the Australian art magazine appeared in Hef's magazine, it goes from celebration to objectification, right?
C'mon, Val ... I've seen more "celebrating the athletic attributes of the female athlete" at Mardi Gras.
But you can't blame Ackerman for this idiotic flip-flop. She's got to be under an inordinateness of duress, positively stressed out every time she walks into the front office. This isn't exactly the Golden Age of WNBA basketball. At this point, any publicity -- even the soft-core, Skinamax kind -- is badly-needed publicity.
The eight-year-old league has seen its league-wide attendance (8,070 friends and family per game) drop eight percent from last season. Even Phoenix, which drafted UConn star Diana Taurasi in the off-season, has seen an 18-percent dip at the gate. Television ratings and exposure are in a holding pattern. Teams in Cleveland, Miami, and Portland have folded in the last two years. Another team in Orlando relocated to a casino. (And what better way to showcase positive role models for today's young women than on a hardwood financed by 6,300 Mohegan Sun slot machines?)
The league is expecting a boost from the Summer Olympics this year, but so what? The United States has medaled in six of the seven Olympics that have featured women's basketball. Winning a fifth gold in six years would be met with a shrug; anything less would be considered a choke job. It's a lose-lose situation.
And what sort of promotion can the Games in Athens offer the WNBA? There will be no new stars born. A look at the Women's National Team roster offers names that grew to prominence during their college days (Lisa Leslie, Sue Bird, Sheryl Swoopes, Tamika Catchings) and have since toiled in anonymity in the women's pro league.
New professional sports leagues are a lot like sketch comedy television shows: if you can't develop your own stars, you're screwed. No one's watching "In Living Color" if Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans don't break out. "Saturday Night Live" is at its best when new talent rises from the cast, instead of established talent being added to it. (Does anyone recall the great Michael McKean/Janeane Garofalo disaster?) The WNBA hasn't produced one household name of its own. Every star in the league is a star because of what they accomplished on Tennessee, UConn or any other elite college team.
This is a league that can't produce household names, and can't get people out of their homes to watch its product.
Having the marketing might of the NBA has been both a blessing and a curse for the WNBA. With it, the league was able to crush a competitor (the American Basketball League) and sustain itself for eight years. (And just how dumb do you have to be -- and I'm looking at you, ABL -- to spend all of that money on a SECOND women's basketball league, NOT run by the NBA? This might be the most egregious case of fiscal irresponsibility since my grandfather accidentally used his social security check as toilet paper.)
But with the NBA's backing, the WNBA is also a case of too much, too soon. Call it the "XFL theorem," which states that "leagues are built, not created."
The ABL was actually establishing itself as a grassroots phenomenon before the NBA's McLeague crushed it. Major League Soccer has thrived, with a sport many fans feel is about as American as Al Jazeera, because it started as a regional league catering to a niche market; the Women's United Soccer Association, by comparison, thought its sponsorship dollars warranted a home in MLS venues. And now it's gone.
Both the WUSA and WNBA share the same fatal flaw: a sense of entitlement.
In the WNBA's case, it's the stubborn refusal to believe that the league needs to change to survive. Attendance, word-of-mouth ... that's the lifeblood of a fledgling organization. Ackerman and the WNBA's leadership have an easy way to boost both, but refuse to.
When the league first started, it placed its college stars near the regions where they played in the NCAA. Now, Ackerman claims preserving the league's "competitive balance" is more important than giving local fans a reason to come to the arena. The way she talks, you'd think the WNBA had a prestigious obsolescence dating back to Reconstruction, instead of the Clinton Administration.
Another easy fix for the WNBA is the league's schedule. The regular season began on May 20 this year. That's during the conference finals for both the NBA and NHL. The end of its regular season is Sept. 19 this year (because of the Olympics), and last season's WNBA Finals ended on Sept. 16. In both cases, the league is reaching its crescendo during the last stages of the baseball pennant chase and Week 2 of the NFL juggernaut.
Shorten the season, and end it in August.
Despite its operational flaws, the WNBA does have a noteworthy history, being the only professional women's league to come close to a decade of continuous operation.
Its future doesn't depend on whether players opt to pose for Miss January or Miss October.
Miss Management will determine the WNBA's fate.
As I write this column, rumors are flying that Duke's Mike Krzyzewski may take over for Phil Jackson as coach of Los Angeles. It's a move that makes completely perfect sense -- after Kobe bolts and Shaq's traded, the Lakers will be just good enough to make the Final Four ...
Pardon my Vice Presidential vernacular, but who the f--k trades Tracy McGrady at this point in his career?
Don't tell me about how the Magic made out well in this deal. First in the NBA in scoring, ninth in minutes, and 25-years old. That's T-Mac. You don't trade that.
Magic GM John Weisbrod was under the impression that McGrady would leave after next season with no compensation. So rather than try to keep him by building a winner around T-Mac, he deals him and then blames the Magic's losing ways on him.
"I think a superstar is defined by wins, by making the players around him better and by making the team better. On that part, my perception is a little different than most," he told the AP.
Classy. Now should I tell him, or should you tell him, that Stevie "Franchise" has gone 101-139 without Yao in the post ...
Look, I have no problem with ESPN's masturbatory celebration of its 25th year on the air. But "ESPN25: The Best 25 Sports Movies" is pushing it waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too far. Seriously, just cancel the damn list if you have to:
1. Put an undeniable piece of dog poo like "Cobb" at No. 23. Seeing that movie made me want to catch the next bus to Cooperstown so I could slap his plaque.
2. Put a chess movie (25. "Searching for Bobby Fischer") and a pool movie (18. "The Color of Money") on the list, but leave off "Rounders" and "Kingpin."
3. Leave off 1996's "When We Were Kings," but put on "Ali."
4. Put "Raging Bull" anywhere but at the top. (It was No. 2, behind "Hoosiers.")
The NFL and the Canadian Football League have extended their working agreement through the 2006 season. The CFL agreed to continue to run its nine-team league and the annual Grey Cup championship game, and the NFL agreed not to point and laugh ...
And finally, Florida middle school teacher Debra Beasley LaFave, 23, is accused of having sex with a 14-year-old student.
Now, I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure "look, she's a hot blonde" isn't going to cut it as a plea bargain.
The real shame in this sex scandal is that she was a newlywed. What the hell is this guy thinking right about now?
I'm guessing a red flag should have gone up on their wedding night, when she asked her husband to pretend he just got back from Little League practice ...