Women’s hoops rims should not be lowered simply to cater to lowest common denominator

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

It is a common criticism that we often hear from detractors of the women’s game. If only they lowered the rims, it would allow for the game to be more “exciting” because there would be more dunks. 

Never mind that we have seen WNBA greats such as Brittney Griner, Lisa Leslie, Sylvia Fowles and Liz Cambage slam it home in the big leagues. Add to the fact that we have seen college athletes such as Stanford’s Fran Belibi and South Carolina’s Ashlyn Watkins perform dunks as well and it is very clear it is not the rims in women’s basketball that need to be lowered. 

It is the standards of basketball fans – many of them males – that need to be raised. 

Speaking of South Carolina, it was in the Palmetto State where the debate about rims was reignited. 

Recently, a nationally recognized high school standout by the name of MiLaysia Fulwiley performed a slam that went viral on social media. She slammed the ball down on the hardwood, palmed it with one hand in midair and threw it down. 

Fulwiley is a name we will be hearing about a lot in coming years as she recently committed to Dawn Staley at South Carolina. She is a senior at Keenan High School in Columbia who appears to be on an A’ja Wilson-esque trajectory with her career having won multiple state championships. Also – she is listed at 5-foot-7 per the Keenan MaxPreps page.

But it serves as furthering the point we as women’s hoops enthusiasts have been driving home for a while now. Women’s basketball does not need to cater to lowest common denominator fans – many of whom are spoiled by watching so much of men’s basketball (including the NBA, men’s college hoops and boys high school basketball) by thinking how men play the game is the default.

It furthers home a point that we as women’s sports fans, advocates and media continue to emphasize – that men’s sports are not the default. They only appear to be the default because they unjustly receive infinitely more media coverage and unjustly receive more financial investment while women’s sports so supposed to be happy with simply the crumbs and leftovers.

There have been some WNBA players even that have come out with pro-lowering rims stances – including Elena Delle Donne and, most recently, Aerial Powers. They are certainly entitled to their opinion as we all are on the issue and theirs is also more informed than most since they are current players. 

But the reality is lowering the rims for women will not be a good look and would make it look like the women’s game needs validation from male fans (the ones who do not watch). It would be in opposition to letting the crispness, flow and stellar play in the women’s game speak for itself.

Anyone who watches women’s and men’s basketball at any level – high school/AAU, college, pro or international can see that the women’s game is equally as scintillating and equally as exciting. For example, the women’s game places a lot more emphasis on team basketball. There is definitely more emphasis on passing and ball distribution in the women’s game. 

In general, the men’s game may be faster and the typical men’s hooper may be taller than the prototypical women’s hooper. But, does anyone ever get the sense during a men’s game that it seems everyone is trying a bit too hard to get on SportsCenter’s Top 10?

A flaw of the men’s game is that some are simply putting emphasis on their own individual highlights as opposed to the team concept. It is why men’s players are more difficult to coach as opposed to their women counterparts. 

Another advantage of the women’s game is that it places more emphasis on the fundamentals of the game. If Tim Duncan wanted to be a WNBA or women’s college hoops coach, he would be perfect because as basketball enthusiasts know, his nickname was The Big Fundamental. 

There was never anything flashy or sexy about Duncan’s game – it was simply effective on its merits and therefore he won five championships and is regarded as the greatest power forward in NBA history. 

Imagine Tim Duncan coaching Aliyah Boston. In fact, one does not have to imagine Duncan coaching Boston because that U.S. Virgin Islands connection has come in handy for the career of the likely future No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick to the Indiana Fever. Duncan has served as a coach and mentor to Boston – in fact, that is where she got the “Timesha Duncan” nickname!

The irony that many of these “dunkers or clunkers” do not realize is that they are telling on themselves in the most spectacular of ways. These are all but confessing that the only reason they watch basketball is for the dunks. These are the ones who can tell you who won the last 20 NBA Slam Dunk Contests but would not be able to tell you against which team Cambage dropped 53 points against in a single WNBA game. 

*Hint- she did it with the Dallas Wings and it was in a home game against the New York Liberty during the 2018 season.*

Another irony is that those who lament that they do not watch the women’s game because of the “lack” of dunks are those who would not watch the women’s game if there was a dunk every possession. There are more than enough folks out there that are haters of the women’s game yet have the audacity to call themselves hoop heads. 

The reason as to why they are not fans of the women’s game has nothing to do with the “lack of dunks and everything to do with the lack of Y chromosomes – and other male body parts. 

Are dunks exciting? Absolutely. Was it exciting when Sweet Syl threw one down in breakaway fashion in last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago at Wintrust Arena (which was, of course, the last All-Star event of her illustrious career)? You bet it was. 

Was it exciting when Lisa Leslie threw down the first ever dunk in WNBA history? You bet it was. 

But as the women’s game – in high school, college, pro, AAU and international continues to teach us, there is so much nuance to it that distinguishes itself so wholeheartedly from the men’s game that it would be fun to watch with or without dunks.

True aficionados of the women’s game appreciate what it is on its merits and that it does not need to become a clone of the men’s game to draw in fans that probably would not watch anyway. 

The rims do not need to be lowered, it is the standards of many a male basketball (sadly, along with a few women) that need to be raised. In the meantime, continue dunking on yourselves, loves.

P.S. to Elena and Aerial…we still love ya! We will just agree to disagree here.