The WNBA is the most important North American pro sports league

Cathy Englebert is a players’ commisioner. Which is to say she grew up a player, and is now the commissioner.

And the timing could not be more perfect for her arrival.

Having played for Hall of Fame coach Muffett McGraw at LeHigh University before entering the business world, Englebert consulted with her former coach before accepting the job with the WNBA.

Since then, the New Jersey native (and former Deloitte CEO) has been on a whirlwind tour around the league — a tour that will actually take her to the Indiana Fever game on August 27. Which just happens to be …

wait for it …

Muffet McGraw night.

Fact is, Englebert inherits a league juiced by fan enthusiasm, replete with star power, fully prepared to grapple with its politics, and still with so much room for growth.

One of the most important of those stars is Australian center Liz Cambage. Standing at 6-foot-8 and the reigning WNBA scoring champ, Cambage is an athletic marvel — fast, strong, smart … she’s the total package.
But in this particular historical moment, it’s important that our sports stars are aware of their unique ability to shape the discourse of our culture.

And while I’m always pleased when my favorite players use their platform to embolden The Resistance, Cambage is proof that such participation does not need to be political. Two weeks before her nationally televised game against the Connecticut Sun, the Australian native published a stirring and important essay titled “DNP — Mental Health” on the Players’ Tribune website.

“We’re comfortable with the general idea that mental healthcare is important — and telling people that you’re dealing with mental health issues has become pretty acceptable. But underneath all of that? There’s still a lot of stuff that I think we don’t see, and don’t talk about. And that stuff can be ugly,” she wrote.
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Thing is, it’s time to retire the “fundamental basketball” refrain that Golf Guy and his Bud Lite Bros have used as a cleverly-dismissive pejorative associated with the WNBA. While it remains true that the number of set offensive plays run in the WNBA is more significant than in the men’s league, “fundamental basketball” has been used as an underhanded way to indicate a “dunk-free zone.”

Here’s the deal, though: In addition to being just as gritty and athletic as the men’s league, we have entered the Generation Trey — the 3-pointer is way sexier than the dunk, and you know it.

I digress.

This isn’t a post about what the WNBA is not.

This is a post about what the WNBA is: The most important North American pro sports league — period.

Twenty-three years after its inception, the WNBA is shifting into an exciting era, and one that comes only with time and experience. You see, 23 years of existence means that each team has players who have never lived without the WNBA as a career choice. Perhaps just as significantly, 23 years also means that there are young parents who are raising children in the same environment.

The movement is in its second generation.

And it’s about time we recognize its place in our discourse.

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