The Rebel Girl: Hoops Without Rodman, Anyone?

Against the Current, No. 66, January/February 1997

Catherine Sameh

IN EARLY OCTOBER the American Basketball League launched its first season of women’s professional basketball, thrilling crowds in eight cities across the United States. With crowds in most cities now averaging close to four thousand per game despite minimal news coverage, the future looks good for women’s pro ball.

Indeed, it should. If the level of excitement among the spectators could determine the ABL’s future, there’d be no question the league would survive and thrive against all odds. This is basketball at its best: The players rely on skill and teamwork, and so far everyone has been modest and even-tempered–likeable enough to win many, many hearts.

If it sounds too pollyannish to be real sports, think again. The lack of dunking and technical fouls has not resulted in a lack of adrenaline. Crowds in my city, at least, are up on their feet when a fast break by Kary Steding is perfectly executed, or hushed in awe when Dawn Staley eludes players twice her size, again and again, to rack up a 30-point game.

And it’s not just the 1996 Olympians who dazzle. Players with amazing high school and college careers–Jennifer Rizotti, Cindy Brown, Michelle Marciniak, Val Whiting, to name a few–are living testimony to why there should be a women’s pro league in the United States.

Certainly many obstacles remain in place to guaranteed success for the ABL. Weeks after the league announced its inception, the National Basketball Association broadcast it will launch a women’s league in the summer of 1997. With sizeable corporate sponsorship s opposed to the ABL’s meager funding, and with two 1996 Olympians–Rebecca Lobo and Sheryl Swoopes–on board, this league has garnered the kind media attention about which the ABL only dreams.

It’s a case of from the bottom up versus from the top down. The ABL has been much more grassroots in its formation. Players helped write their contracts, and shoestring staffs with puny budgets have worked around the clock to promote their teams. While the WNBA claims its short summer season won’t compete with the ABL’s regular season, its corporate backing and link to the NBA alone pose serious competition for the ABL.

An appalling dearth of news coverage of the ABL isn’t helping matters much. Only a few games are nationally televised, and so far only on small cable outlets. After home games our statewide paper generally buries a few paragraphs on the last page of the sports section, and never covers games on the road.

One well-respected television newscaster after attending his first Portland Power game in mid-season went so far as to declare the future of the ABL precarious unless the players start dunking the ball.

There’s no doubt that day will come. There are players who are dunking the ball in practice sessions. And so, too, will come the day when the first technical foul is called.

But fans of women’s basketball and the ABL aren’t holding our breaths. We’re more than satisfied to watch great basketball played, unspoiled by million-dollar egos and sensationalized controversies. And we’re elated at each and every game, whether our own teams win or lose.

We know history is in the making, and that each player in the ABL blazes a trail for all young women to follow.

ATC 66, January-February 1997