The Ruder Reality

Tuesday, March 30, 2004 – Candace Parker, the best female high school basketball player in the country, beats out five of best male high school basketball players in a dunk contest.

If you believe the majority of what has been written, years from now sports fans around the world will remember what transpired in a Midwest City, Okla. gym in much the same way we recall July 4, 1776.

The day the revolution of women’s basketball began.

One writer called it “women’s basketball’s version of the moon landing.”

The commentators anointed Parker a deserving member of the pantheon of previous winners and future NBA stars Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter. didn’t hesitate to place Parker alongside groundbreaking female athletes Billie Jean King and Annika Sorenstam and to trumpet her victory as one of the “stunning indelible moments, that transcend sport, crumble barriers and create icons.”

All I’ll remember it as is the embarrassing day the patronization of women’s sports reached a new low.

The reality is: Parker’s victory was a sham. The whole contest was a sham.

Parker won with a series of dunks that Woody Harrelson’s character in “White Men Can’t Jump” wouldn’t have settled for. Her “best” dunk entailed holding her left arm in front of her face and half-heartedly squinting, like a kid when his parents tell him not to watch a scene in a R-rated movie, while she dunked with her other hand. On another, she looped the ball around her opposite arm before dunking.

This, while her male competitors did their best “Stomp!” imitation, banging the rim like a cymbal with ridiculous dunks only possible in the gravity-free world of video games.

In the end, they missed so many dunks that Parker won on the points she had accumulated. And the hyperbole began…

Those marketing women’s basketball (think ESPN) have been searching for anything to draw in fans and increase ratings. For them, Parker’s dunks fell through the nets like manna from heaven. Not only had she dunked – she beat a bunch of guys who will be in the NBA in the next few years.

Had a boy won on the series of dunks Parker assembled, the contest likely would have been scrapped. Had a boy even tried one of the lackluster dunks Parker made, he would have been laughed off the court.

Obviously, Parker’s feat didn’t deserve ridicule, but to claim her victory as proof that the women’s game is evolving, moving closer to some feminist ideal – where women throw down dunks alongside male competitors and play above the rim – is equally absurd.

You could almost hear the marketers saying, “Look, look! Women can dunk too! It’s worth watching … really!”

In the quest to sell the game of women’s basketball, a victory (however tainted) over boys in a dunk contest was more valuable than an honest assessment of the differences between the men’s and women’s games. Parker’s dunking victory was more valuable in drawing viewers than the fact Parker led her HS team to four straight state championships and the fact she is an incredibly articulate and charismatic woman with an honor-roll GPA.

While those qualities were mentioned, the only things focused on were A) she dunked, and B) she beat the boys.

If this is the way to sell women’s basketball, count me among those not interested in buying.