The National Basketball Association is the world’s premier basketball organization as it influences everything in the sport from professional games to international competition, and youth basketball from the US to third world countries. Therefore, the NBA has to make sure that the products it offers, in this case professional basketball, is the best in the world. The 30 team flagship men’s basketball league already is clearly at that status.
The NBA has made major headway in terms of developing a professional farm system in men’s basketball with the NBA Development League (D-League) and a number of NBA teams now have their own dedicated D-League franchise, including Nate’s Golden State Warriors, which own the Santa Cruz Warriors among others. The D-League has helped develop a good number of decent NBA level players, some of whom are notable household names, like the Spurs’ Danny Green and the Rockets’ Jeremy Lin to name a few.
The NBA owns and operates the WNBA which is touted as the best women’s professional basketball league in the world at least in part because it is dominated by American talent. Likewise, Stern, his successor Adam Silver and Laurel Richie need to work together in order to make sure that the W is clearly the best professional league in the women’s game for perpetuity because I don’t think the status quo is sustainable. After all the WNBA’s CBA expires after this year.
So here goes with this checklist of things I would promote to or tell WNBA President Laurel Richie to do to improve the game, improve conditions for players, and improve the fan experience if I was David Stern, even if they’re unrealistic today:
WNBA Player Salaries/Season Length
1. WNBA players salaries need to go up on average considerably. But the season is 34 games long and that’s not really a length that I’m satisfied with. I’d lengthen the season to 50 games, starting in late May, and ending in late November into December which is when the Finals would be. I could care less about European season. Maybe I’m selfish, but I would consider the international women’s pro leagues adversaries to the WNBA because at some point the best players in the world, even Americans will just play there, and not here.
So in the end player salaries must increase with a season going from 34 to 50 games, but that increase needs to be more than just a proportional increase too.
2. As Commish, I know I MUST PROTECT the best players in the league from going overseas and hurting themselves. WNBA fans complained about many stars who are out due to overseas play. I’d give a designated player rule like the “David Beckham rule” in the MLS to allow teams to declare up to one player as such. That player can be paid well beyond the league max salary, but the cap hit for said player would only be at the regular max salary. In exchange, those players cannot play for an international league.
3. Speaking about international play, the new WNBA season does overlap with Euro season, but whatever. Players who are not designated players may choose to play abroad, but are expected to complete their WNBA seasons first.
4. First round and Conference Finals series will be best of five series now up from best of three. The Finals will now be a best of seven series with a 2-2-1-1-1 format like we see in the NBA Playoffs before the Finals. Semi off-topic comment, but for the NBA, I’d make the Finals a 2-2-1-1-1 series now instead of the current 2-3-2. That keeps things consistent with the other rounds.
5. I can’t forget about this. Roster size. 11 per team? That’s pathetic! The Team USA basketball team gets 12, college teams have like 15 people in uniform. Even pee wee leagues can have more than 11. I’d expand roster size to 14 per team. This allows teams to develop some form of injury reserve players. This also encourages teams to retain draft picks, and give them opportunity to develop them over time, especially if they’re “projects.”
6. If there’s one thing that the WNBA can improve on, it’s youth development. Currently, no rookie contracts are guaranteed, which basically means that if the Chicago Sky felt like it, they could cut Elena Delle Donne today with no penalty of having to pay her in future years. Obviously that isn’t happening because she’s one of the top players in the league, but first round picks whether they’re first or tenth deserve a full opportunity and some job security. I’d give all first round picks a two year guaranteed contract where they will be guaranteed a roster spot. In addition, there will be team options for the third and fourth years, which will be similar to how it is in the NBA.
Gameplay and Officiating
1. With the exception of the times of games with 10 minute quarters as opposed to 12 in the NBA because of media reasons, and the ball size, EVERY game rule in the WNBA will be the same as the NBA. That means a three point line of 23 feet and 9 inches from the basket in most locations, and no less than three feet away from the sidelines. Also when the shot clock is under 5 seconds, there should be tenths left on the clock too. I get that some think the three point line may be too far away for “women’s basketball” but I think the women can manage. They’ll be fine with the three sooner than some detractors think.
From Ridiculous Upside: D-League Refs Lauren Holtkamp and Brenda Pantoja take NBA assignments during the 2012-2013 season They’re WNBA refs too if their names sound familiar to you. Here’s Holtkamp officiating a Washington Wizards game at Verizon Center last December.
2. That leads me to officiating. There are a lot of complaints about WNBA officiating, and many WNBA referees are just trying to audition for NBA jobs down the road. I get that. Also out of today’s NBA referees, many of them, even seasoned vets, started in the WNBA and/or the D-League. I actually like this pipeline of talent. Also as an NBA fan, I accept that the quality of WNBA officiating may not be as high as the NBA because of what I just said. Many WNBA refs are auditioning for the NBA, and the best refs in this league will make it there.
If it was me, I’d actually have some NBA referees (by paying them extra money of course), including the best referees in the NBA doing some WNBA games on assignment as mentors to those who are trying to get their way into the NBA. The same goes for the D-League. Also, with the rules in the WNBA now being the same as the NBA minus ball size and quarter length in this “more ideal universe,” accountability for refs in multiple NBA leagues will be increased.
Presentation of the Game and Marketing
I absolutely cannot stand postgame handshake lines in professional basketball. It’s not just a game, it’s the players’ job to win!
1. First and foremost, I will get rid of the postgame handshake line after every game and then the home team doing a huddle at center court. This is professional basketball. There are WINNERS and LOSERS. If a team won, it did its job. If a team lost, it didn’t. Plain and simple. I don’t see this in the NBA and it’s not because players aren’t showing sportsmanship. It’s because they’re grown adults and professionals, NOT little kids in pee wee leagues, high school, or college. The only post game handshakes should be voluntary, NOT in a line, and it should be kept that way.
2. I’d have one exception to the no postgame handshake though. I would have a post game handshake after the end of each playoff series, along the likes of the NHL where this has become tradition. The NBA should do this too and I’d do that as commissioner as a matter of fact.
3. Allow teams to have full reign on designing uniforms. The uniforms all look the same minus color and it’s way too standardized. Again, this makes things look cheap and it doesn’t cost that much to give teams some individuality.
4. I hate these interviews with NBA players that are all fluff, like, “Why is women’s basketball great?” Just talk about the game or don’t do the interview AT ALL!
5. Get Dave Miller, the Lakers’ and Sparks’ halftime analyst of Time Warner Sportsnet as a halftime commentator for nationally televised WNBA games. He is better than all the others I’ve listened to including those on ESPN. He doesn’t talk fluff and about player’s college years, etc. Just meat and potatoes basketball.
Other things to improve fan experience
1. There must be an All-Star game EVERY YEAR. Not having it on Olympic years or FIBA World Championship years is cheapening the product and is also basically giving the middle finger to the fans.
2. Rotate the All-Star game to places besides the Mohegan Sun Casino. Put it in LA or Seattle first because they’ve never had a game yet. Also consider putting the game in other cities without a WNBA team or even a place where a team folded like Houston, the San Francisco Bay, or Toronto.
3. Get a true All-Star Weekend in place. Have a celeb game, a skills challenge and three point shooting contest.
4. Sell real authentic cut jerseys for every team. The jerseys out right now at NBAStore.com just look really cheap.
This post could easily turn into the Bible, but those are some of the major things I’d do. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten many things that I’ll add later. If you were David Stern for a day, what would you specifically do to improve the WNBA?