- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2001

Lisa Harrison is debating whether to become a nude basketball player.
The Phoenix Mercury forward is in a commanding position to claim the title of the "Sexiest Babe in the WNBA," as conducted by vote at Playboy.com. She leads by more than 13,000 votes. The voting ends today.
To the winner goes an opportunity to celebrate the minimalist look in the pages of Playboy magazine. The compensation is negotiable, the publicity priceless.
The 30-year-old Harrison figures she could use both the money and the bump in name recognition, considering this is the WNBA.
The NBA's 5-year-old subsidiary is short on cash and transcendent appeal, even in a number of its host cities. Charlotte, N.C., Salt Lake City and Detroit are still struggling to acknowledge the WNBA. There are alternatives, with Chicago being mentioned as one.
This is basketball life on the distaff side, far removed from the bright lights and pampered multimillionaires of the NBA.
Harrison has indicated that she is inclined to listen to Playboy's offer. She also has indicated that editorial taste is important, too.
Her uncertainty could be aided by the wink-wink assertion that no one buys Playboy for the pictures. Most pick up the magazine to read the articles on world peace. A few buy it as a decorative piece for their coffee tables.
Harrison's situation has resulted in the usual political split, with the oglers on one side and the feminist puritans on the other. Harrison and the WNBA do not want to offend either group. They need all the fans they can get.
To those who question the value of sex appeal in women's sports, or imagine it to be a step back to the '50s kitchen, they miss the marketing essence of Michael Jordan. He was easy on the eyes, to say the least, and still is, dispensing a smile that melts the cameras trained on him.
The premise is not all that novel and subtle, whether the product being pushed is a magazine or a car or a neophyte basketball league. Unfair as it may be, the good-looking are perceived to have certain advantages. The perception sometimes becomes a reality.
It is a highly subjective process in some respects, although there really is nothing all that subjective about Jordan or many of the beautiful people who assault America's eyes. It sometimes is hard to avoid Cindy Crawford's visage at the grocery checkout line.
Harrison, in a small way, is poised to tap into this market, and good for her. She seems to like the idea, as long as the fallout is minimal.
"It's great to be recognized for being more than just an athlete, but also as a strong woman," she says.
Brandi Chastain was recognized beyond the soccer field after she removed her shirt two summers ago. Left with a sports bra, the pose captured the mood and joy of the moment, if not the team's crossover appeal.
The U.S. women's soccer team drew 90,185 fans to the Rose Bowl in the World Cup final, signifying a shift of sorts in the sports culture. The team merely wasn't the best. The team also exuded the girl-next-door qualities, which fanned the flames of interest.
There is a correlation between fannies in the seats and a nice fanny, male or female. This is a dimension of being human, and not a superfluous dimension, as six billion humans can attest.
Anna Kournikova is one of the most popular athletes in the world, and not because she ever has won a tennis tournament, which she hasn't. She seems to revel in the game within the game, as well she should.
Harrison is flashing a similar spirit, and possibly some skin if the conditions are right. That is the American way, despite protests to the contrary. Funny. The protests often come from those who never have to think outside their box. To put it another way, they don't look all that good. They just look envious.
Michelle Marciniak, the WNBA's sexiest babe winner last year, elected not to have a photo shoot with Playboy, which was fine.
Harrison is looking to have it both ways, with a body for basketball and a body that graces the pages of Playboy, which also is fine.
You go, girl.

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