Sports Opinion & Analysis

Brittney Griner – Coming To An NBA Game Near You!

In NBA on April 12, 2013 at 6:31 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

Since Mark Cuban succeeded in bringing attention to his lottery bound Mavericks by saying that he would give Brittney Griner a tryout, or perhaps even draft her in the second round, much ink has been split on whether she can succeed in the NBA, with some going so far as to suggest she shouldn’t even try (of course, with an attitude like that we’d have never seen Billie Jean King put Bobby Riggs in his place and we’d all have to consult Jules Verne novels to imagine what it would be like going to the moon).

It's completely scientifically accurate.

It’s completely scientifically accurate.

If you’re like me, after the initial “Cuban being Cuban” reaction wore off, your mind went to down to Dixie, specifically to Chattanooga. Why? Because on April 2, 1931, the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts played an exhibition game against baseball royalty, the New York Yankees. The Yankees started their stars that day, and when 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell came out of the bullpen for the Lookouts, baseball lore was about to be made. You see, she struck out the first two batters she faced, a pair of gentlemen named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Of course, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, having become the first commissioner of baseball in the wake of the Chicago Black Sox scandal, celebrated her achievement by voiding her contract and hanging a “no girls allowed” sign on baseball clubhouses across the land. But armed with her precedent, I can only ask one question about Griner playing in the NBA: “why not?”

If there is one thing everyone agrees on about Griner, it is that she is the most dominant force the women’s game has ever seen. It’s not just that she is 6’8” and 208 lbs, her fundamentals and basketball instincts are superb. As a result, she holds the NCAA women’s record for slam dunks with 18 and the NCAA blocked shots record with 736. (Note the adjective that just dropped out. The all-time men’s blocks leader Jarvis Varnado accumulated a paltry 564 blocks in his college career.) But after this point comes the “yeah, but…” when the topic turns to Griner playing in the NBA.

Doubters point to the size that made her dominant in college as a liability in the NBA. After all, NBA centers like Dwight Howard (6’ 11”, 265), Brook Lopez (7’ 0”, 265), Al Horford (6’ 10”, 250), Joakim Noah (6’11”, 232) and Kendrick Perkins (6’ 10”, 270) all have the bulk to box her out and push her around in the post with relative ease. Of course, anyone who actually watches basketball will tell you that it isn’t all about size, there is this new fangled invention they call skill. But for the sake of argument I’ll concede the point and stipulate that she’s not built to be an NBA center. But there are other positions on the court, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that a player of her talent couldn’t switch positions, especially with the Celtics using Kevin Garnett at center instead of power forward in the aftermath of Danny Ainge shooting his team in both feet with a grenade launcher trading Perkins to the Thunder. The next logical place to look is power forward. Here the size problem is no less acute, given the likes of Chris Bosh (6’ 11”, 235), KG (6’ 11”, 253), LeMarcus Aldridge (6’ 11”), Dirk Nowitzki (7’ 0”, 245), Amar’e Stoudemire (6’ 11”, 245).

But what about small forward? Here high quality players include Kevin Durant (6’ 9”, 235), Paul Pierce (6’ 7”, 235), the ironically renamed Metta World Peace (6’ 7”, 260), Loul Deng (6’ 9”, 220) and to dip into the 1990s, Scottie Pippen (6’ 8”, 228), all of whom have a weight advantage on Griner, but no considerable difference in height. Now I can already hear the complaints: “really? You want to take a 5 and make her a 3? Take a post player and have her play away from the basket?” Admittedly, this is a different position with different skill sets, and she is likely to be at a disadvantage against speedy slashers like Carmelo Anthony (who is the same height as Griner). So yes, there would be challenges and this would not be an easy transition, but no one would be asking her to be the next great SF. Come off the bench, put in solid minutes, and this would be a win for both Griner (who with a $500,000 NBA rookie minimum would be making five times the WNBA veteran maximum and getting more exposure for endorsements than she ever could with the Tulsa Shock or Connecticut Sun) and a rebuilding Mavs team.

Britney Griner: Better than 2-out-of-3 Mavs starters

Britney Griner: Better than 2-out-of-3 Mavs starters

Are the odds stacked against Griner, sure. But so what? We won’t know if a female “big” can play in the men’s game until someone tries. Bob Cousy’s no-look, behind the back passes weren’t supposed to be able to work in the NBA, Dustin Pedrioa was supposedly too small to make it in The Show, let alone win AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP, and the NHL couldn’t possibly thrive in the Deep South (okay, the doubters were right about that one). My point is, this is sports; the crazy, the unbelievable, the impossible, the never-going-to-happen-I’ll-eat-my-hat-if-it-does is commonplace and is what makes the endeavor so grand. So if Cuban wants to do this, for basketball reasons or otherwise, and Griner wants to take up the challenge, I for one look forward to seeing whether she can channel her inner Jackie Mitchell.

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