- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

The WNBA players have come down with an impressive case of self-importance.

They are threatening to take a powder if management does not acquiesce to their salary demands after the collective bargaining agreement expires in September.

They must believe their press clippings, many of which are dispensed to maintain the politically correct illusions of 2002.

In truth, there is no massive clamoring for women's basketball in America. This is a niche sport, if ever there was one, that exists only because of the charity of David Stern and the NBA.

The WNBA is in its sixth season and has not made a penny yet, not one. In fact, the WNBA is losing money, despite the NBA's infrastructure, clout and brand name.

The WNBA is a real-life fantasy league, unobtrusive most of the time, except when the fantasy bumps against the hard facts. The WNBA's union leaders appear to be overcome by the fantasy, if not on the same spaceship as Marshall Applewhite trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. They are way out there.

Adrain Williams, who plays with the Phoenix Mercury, is no threat to succeed Alan Greenspan.

"We don't want to bankrupt the league," she says. "We just want to get our share, period. If the league is going to fold, it is going to fold. But at least pay us what we're worth."

She can't be serious. Pay her what she is worth? What is less than nothing worth?

The WNBA players are missing a fundamental economic point in their quest to upgrade salaries. The league is bleeding red ink. End of discussion.

Please, leave the NBA players out of it. Their salary model does not apply to the WNBA players. Yes, I know. It's hard to resist the comparison.

The men play basketball. The women play basketball. Well, to be fair, all too many of the women pretend to play basketball. But no matter. For the moment, let's go with this.

The women play basketball, the same as the men. OK. The women's point? Where are the 20,000 spectators paying a small ransom to breathe in the vicinity of the women? Where are the television ratings that impress advertisers? Where is the buzz? Just what I thought.

That is the problem.

That also is gratitude for you.

If the NBA was not behind the WNBA, the WNBA would have gone belly-up a couple of years ago. The NBA has made a considerable investment in the WNBA since 1997, sticking the teams in NBA arenas, marketing the top players and cutting television deals by wielding its big stick.

Now this is the thanks the NBA is getting from the WNBA. The NBA is getting hints of a strike and a chorus of whining, of how tough it is to have to play overseas to supplement the average player salary of $55,000.

This is intended to inspire pity. Instead, it merely reveals the pettiness of the WNBA players.

The average WNBA player earns as much as an extra $5,000 a month overseas, the stars even more, for seasons that last six months. That's $30,000 to go with $55,000, which is not a bad annual salary for a twentysomething wage earner. More than a few might be shocked to discover what they would command in the real world.

It is funny how it works in the marketplace. The WNBA provides a service, in this case entertainment of sorts, and the public puts a dollar figure on it. It is that simple.

This is how the big boys play the capitalistic game anyway.

The WNBA women, alas, do not really want to play this game. They just want to be told they are strong and invincible, the standard stuff. They just want to hear the fashionable tenets of the day, of how wonderful it is for America to see muscular women running, jumping and sweating on a 94-foot basketball court.

This is fine. Whatever. We are all guilty of deluding ourselves at times, although the suggestion of a strike goes beyond that.

Just to be safe, hide the sharp objects from the women of the WNBA.

Take a deep breath, women, and look at the empty seats around you and the ones filled with bargain hunters. You have a history of failed professional basketball leagues, most recently the American Basketball League, and your understanding of the NBA is selective.

The NBA was stuck in Fort Wayne, Ind., Syracuse, N.Y., and Rochester, N.Y., in its sixth season of operation.

So be strong and invincible. More important, though, be smart.

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