- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

The notion advanced by David Stern that a woman possibly will be playing in the NBA in the next 10 years is far-fetched if you consider the high level of strength, athleticism and skill that is required to advance to the game’s highest rung.

Yet the NBA commissioner told Sports Illustrated: “I think that’s well within the range of probability.”

He did not mean a woman in the NBA as a publicity stunt, either. He meant one as a viable competitor.

All this goes with Stern’s forward-thinking approach to the game. He has pushed the game overseas. He has embraced the foreign imports to the NBA, the high number of which today would have been dismissed as unthinkable only a generation ago. And he introduced female referees to the NBA.

Stern’s political antenna always has been acute. But this potential offering is beyond the reality of the women’s game.

The women’s game lags considerably behind the men’s game. You do not have to watch more than a few minutes of a WNBA game to gauge the pronounced differences in size, speed, quickness and jumping ability.

And it is no secret the coaches of the top women’s college teams sometimes solicit men’s intramural teams to sharpen the competitive edge of their teams. These intramural teams often feature ordinary-sized men who might have played basketball in high school.

That is where the women’s game is in 2009 - a vast gulf from the men’s game.

The quantum differences in the two games are certain to close in the decades ahead as women make more strides in a sport that has been embraced at the high school, AAU and college levels only in the last generation.

The growing popularity of the game at the youth level is leading to stronger competition, savvier players and better coaching.

Yet in many ways, the women’s game remains in the embryonic stage of its development, which weakens those men/women comparisons in tennis, golf, track and field and swimming.

The top women in tennis, golf, track and field and swimming would defeat, oh, maybe 99 percent of the world’s males. A WNBA player possibly would lose to a boys’ high school player in a game of one-on-one.

If a woman is to play in the NBA within the next 10 years, it would have to be an extraordinary woman. It would have to be a woman we have not seen yet.

It would have to be a 6-foot-4 version of Cynthia Cooper, arguably the best there ever has been in the WNBA. She had the requisite skill set, the court sense and vision that served the Houston Comets so well.

But to play in the NBA, Cooper would have needed to be five or six inches taller, plus stronger and quicker.

The NBA, featuring the best athletes in the world, exploits the slightest imperfections in players. A player who cannot move well laterally is destined to be a defensive liability on the perimeter. An undersized player in the frontcourt is destined to be the victim of the post-up maneuver.

If a player lacks a quick first step or first-rate ballhandling skills, he can expect navel-to-navel defensive pressure. The NBA is often a competition between a player seeking to reach his comfort spots on the floor and a defense trying to push the player to his uncomfortable spots.

Stern’s fantasy is understandable. If a woman ever reached the NBA, the marketing potential would be phenomenal. It would be a mega-event, a television ratings winner, wherever the woman showed up in the short term.

Yet it is so much wishful thinking, hardly “a good possibility” in the next 10 years, as Stern put it.

The first woman to play in the NBA probably has not been born yet.

It no doubt will happen one day, especially if Stern’s successor makes it a priority.

But not within the next 10 years and probably not in the next generation or two.

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