Open Letter to Basketball Fans & #BasketballTwitter: Don’t sleep on these WNBA Finals

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 20: Seimone Augustus
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 20: Seimone Augustus /

The open letter format has gotten plenty of run over the last few years. I’ll understand if you think the format is tired or misused, especially in the realm of sports. But if so many others can get one shot at this, I’m going to take one, too.

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“I’m just a basketball fan.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or heard that phrase.

I’ve used it plenty of times myself, mainly because I’ve been a jaded sports fan since the age of 11 or 12. Blame San Diego.

You know what else floats around a lot this time of year? Something to the effect of, “There are only [insert number here] days left until basketball season!”

To be fair, these remarks at times are more specific—days until tip-off, the NBA season, college basketball, Kyrie Irving’s first game against the Cavs as a Celtic, etc. This isn’t being written to wage a war over word choice. It would be unfair to accuse those people of ill will.

But that phrase persists enough that I really would love to ask all those people directly: Will you be watching the 2017 WNBA Finals?

Let’s get even more specific. Basketball Twitter. It’s often referred to as a magical place. Basketball Twitter is where fans engage in 24/7, year-round talk. Debates and arguments take over entire days, even in the offseason! Articles are written. People on both sides dig their heels in and come out with stronger takes.

Basketball Twitter is great for many reasons. I won’t pretend to know them all. This won’t be a list. I hate lists. For starters, Basketball Twitter is beloved and held in such high regard largely because the NBA allows it to even exist as it does.

Why else do people love it? Anyone can grab a moment in the sun. There is a true sense of community. Basketball Twitter, as an experience, is warm and human enough that people are proud to embrace it and contribute. Anybody attempting to cover the game wants to earn some shine. Trust me, I get it.

But basketball is about the players.

If you’re reading this and made it this far, please don’t roll your eyes and close this tab. Please keep reading. Because it is basketball season. Right now. And that’s one beauty in the WNBA’s reality. These players play in the summer, and that doesn’t even begin to tell the entire story.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 14: WNBA President Lisa Borders with Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 14: WNBA President Lisa Borders with Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The WNBA is eager to gain more traction, to grow its fan base. That is no secret. Don’t use that as a reason not to watch. Remember, this game is about players. So watch them.

Watch 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles as she leads her team into this WNBA Finals rematch with homecourt advantage against the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks. Watch Maya Moore, one of the premier wing talents in the world. Watch 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard as she attempts to make life tough for Moore one possession at a time. Watch Candace Parker, the 2016 WNBA Finals MVP, as she attempts to lead LA to its second repeat in franchise history (accomplished previously in 2001 and 2002). Watch Nneka Ogwumike, the 2016 WNBA MVP, go toe-to-toe with Fowles in the paint all series long.

This rematch is not short on star power, on new additions, on the immense hunger to win which we so often project onto our favorite pros. Is it just me or is there a growing abundance of people who’ll see a picture of, say, Chris Paul spending a day with his family in July, scoff, then remain angry or bitter enough to post something like, “Still doesn’t have any rings, though!”

A serious post in that vein deserves no response. Sure, for some, it’s just jokes. Do with your social media as you please. But at some point, can’t we just cop to the corniness of some of that stuff and shift our attention to the actual basketball being played? Isn’t that what a reasonable, true “basketball fan” would be doing?

It has been basketball season all summer long. Again, that is the reality of the WNBA. They play in the summer while many of us are vacationing or kicking back at the pool.

Basketball Twitter, this is where you come in. I know the hunger for high-level basketball exists year round. If people can argue over whether Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan is more important to the Raptors (Really? That’s the best you’ve got? They’ll be playing together for a long time, no matter how right you think you are) or milk three days out of Kevin Durant’s burner Twitter accounts (This one’s even worse. People don’t even know what they’re arguing for at this point), then we can take the time to tune into this best-of-five WNBA Finals on ABC and ESPN.

There are plenty of fans out there that love basketball for the matchups/great coaching/X’s and O’s. This series is for you. After losing last year’s Finals, Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve was sure to say repeatedly that her center/2015 Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles needed to be more involved. How many coaches just say that about a big? It happens every single year. Reeve wasn’t just setting a narrative. She, her staff, Fowles and the rest of the Lynx roster delivered.

On the other side, I’d challenge anybody to show me an offense that’s more enjoyable to watch than that of the Sparks. Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler does a great job with his offense in putting his players in position to strike a balance between attacking the basket with a spread floor, moving the ball from side to side, and going at mismatches in the post.

Candace Parker’s complete game makes it all flow for LA. We obsess over the idea of the stretch big and ask if the center position is dead. The term basketball unicorn recently entered the lexicon. The truest example of a basketball unicorn is playing for the Sparks. She’s experienced, still at her apex, competing for titles and hungry for more.

20 years from now, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say that you watched her play?

Make this about the players. With these teams, this backstory, there is someone that will be on that court playing in a way that you’ll appreciate. They are the best in the world at what they do. How could there not be? Give these Finals a chance and I think your curiosity will force you to stick around.

As I said earlier, the WNBA season takes place in the summer. Would they rather play in the winter? It’s not my place to answer for them. I do know that these players ought to be paid more, and the only way to do that is to grow the league.

Don’t use your perception of the league’s growth as your chief reason to bash it or tune it out. That reason will not cut it anymore. If one can dismiss an entire league with more than two decades of history on its side, supporters of the WNBA shouldn’t feel guilty in challenging those trolls to form one educated opinion.

Don’t act as if the league isn’t self-aware enough to admit that they need and want to grow. They’ve only said as much. Embrace and appreciate their work! Most WNBA players play year-round.


OK, now let’s talk about an elephant in the room. We’ve all seen the snarky comments. “Let ’em play on an 8-foot rim, and then I’d be interested!” There’s no denying the extra element that dunking, or the mere threat of it, adds to a game.

Let’s come back to word choice to start it off. Can’t? C’mon. Brittney Griner, Jonquel Jones, Parker, Fowles, and plenty of others can/will/have thrown it down with ease enough that you can’t just say, “They can’t dunk!”

Secondly, I’d caution some of those fans to be cautious in digging their own grave. You’ll quickly lose credibility if you laud the ‘good old days’ of passing, cutting, screening and moving if you choose to dismiss the WNBA at the same time solely for the discrepancy in total dunks. See the irony there?

I couldn’t ever belittle the excitement or impact of Rudy Gobert rising up for a lob or Russell Westbrook cramming one home over two defenders. Of course dunking is fun! But come with something real to stand on if you want to criticize the WNBA.

Basketball experts/lifers are supposed to pick up on the nuances of this beautiful game. Tuning out the WNBA because there isn’t enough dunking cuts against that. So for you, which one is it? Pick one and I’ll live with it. But please, stop riding the fence.

Let’s be done with those two sorry arguments. “They can’t dunk!” and “Look, the league doesn’t make enough money!” should be retired. Sadly, those two crutches have been around for too long. They’re what Bill Simmons stood on as he lobbed his grenades at the WNBA in the early 2000s. Say, has Bill taken up that challenge to go to Phoenix for a Mercury game yet? Two 2017 Finals games in Los Angeles wouldn’t be a bad substitute.

These Finals are the kind of event The Ringer, Simmons’ website/podcast network/post-ESPN media venture, should use as a launchpad into covering the WNBA more. I want to be able to visit sites like that the morning after each of these games, knowing coverage of the night before will be there.

I want to be able to type ‘WNBA’ into search bars of prominent websites and be flooded with WNBA content rather than seeing NBA articles on the first page of results in which a writer only mentions the WNBA as an aside or in making a bad joke.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 20: Jantel Lavender
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 20: Jantel Lavender /

We all have an endless queue of movies and shows to catch up on, articles or books to read, friends and family to visit and catch up with. It’s also very clear that basketball has nuzzled (h/t Ryan Ruocco) its way into many of our lives on a year-round basis. There’s a hunger for more basketball even in the hot summer months, and many people strive to create content to meet that need.

Basketball Twitter and the “I’m just a basketball fan” crowd, at the end of the day, we are all just basketball fans. Why can’t more of us follow the WNBA and enjoy these games together? I’m sure many of you have watched some WNBA. If you have, please give me your feedback. My colleagues and I here at The Summitt want to cover the league and do it well. So tell us, which want isn’t being met? What about the game do you not necessarily enjoy?

I only ask you have an open mind. There’s more than just me at the other end of this line. We at The Summitt all love watching the WNBA. So put forth a real effort to watch the games and bring new ideas to the table. Pay us the same respect we would to you if we wanted to challenge you on your stance on tanking in the NBA or whether Kyrie Irving can be “the man” in Boston.

More importantly, please be respectful of the people who paved the road that led to this point. Many people currently on this earth lived in a time in which the WNBA did not exist. Sit with that thought for a moment.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 11: Cheryl Reeve, Lindsay Whalen
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 11: Cheryl Reeve, Lindsay Whalen /

Be respectful of living legends like Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, still an All-Star more than a decade into her pro career. With or without your approval, her status in basketball history is already cemented. That’s basketball. Period. Not just women’s basketball. So tune in now. Watch them and the rest of this league live and in person.

And finally, respect and think of the young girls (and boys!) growing up in the world today. Because of Augustus and the many greats set to play in these Finals (along with their current WNBA peers and those who came before them), those kids can grow up with something to aspire toward.

For every young kid saying, “I want to be like Steph Curry or LeBron James,” there ought to be another saying, “I want to be like Seimone Augustus or Lindsay Whalen.”

I mentioned the idea of ownership earlier and how we all can earn a moment in the sun thanks to Basketball Twitter. Every basketball fan out there can take ownership in this, with or without social media.

Lynx-Sparks, the rematch, will be nationally televised. New eyes will be watching these teams for the first time. For those of us who love basketball, a request to watch one series is not too much to ask. I guarantee you that some girl out there will watch these Finals and say, “I want to be like Candace Parker,” or “I want to be like Maya Moore.” The list goes on. Wouldn’t it be great for her to reach the WNBA in ten years and see that it is growing and thriving?

Do your part. Take ownership and bring some basketball-loving friends along for the ride. See something you like? Amplify it. See something you don’t? Be civil and state your case.

Just come with something other than dunking because, well, you’re better than that.

The WNBA Finals tip Sunday, September 24th on ABC at 3:30 PM EST.