In 1977, the KC Kings used an NBA Draft pick on Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner. The goof, of course, is that he was the clichéd ‘best available athlete.’ Now some are taking seriously another gimmicky notion mentioned by Mavs owner Mark Cuban connecting his team to female star Brittney Griner. And if the Mavs and Griner wish to hook up for yet another ‘goof’? Well, they would deserve each other.
I’d initially vowed to treat this non-story with the disinterest it deserves, especially because it almost seems like chum designed to draw us away from the real issue of the day. But Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s mention before Tuesday’s Mavs-at-Lakers game of him potential drafting of Baylor center Brittney Griner is now gaining traction.
So I frankly feel an obligation to battle the misinformation with truth, to battle the illogic with reason.
"If she is the best on the board, I will take her," Cuban said. "I've thought about it. I've thought about it already. Would I do it? Right now, I'd lean toward ‘yes,’ just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, a nd it's not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it."
There’s a critical chunk of “if’’ in Cuban’s declaration and I’ll handle it first: Mark says “if she’s the best on the board.’’ He’s being truthful here; the personnel department will rank all the eligible players for the draft. They will take into consideration everything from talent to age to height. And then they will place them in an order.
“If’’ the personnel department evaluates Brittney Griner as being the 50th best player and Dallas owns the 50th pick … sure. Take her.
Problem is, she won’t be the 50th best player on the board. Because her brilliance aside – at Baylor she’s good for 23 points per game and her 736 career blocks are the most ever for a male or female college basketball player – she’s simply not qualified for the job.
Griner is a post. She’s 6-8, about 200 pounds. She lacks the skillset (ballhandling, shooting) to play on the perimeter so playing against men, she’d have to play center. In doing so, on the Mavs’ roster alone, she would have to discover a way to compete with people like Chris Kaman.
Now, Kaman is no All-Star. But what he is is 7-0, 265, with the ability to bang, to put the ball on the floor, to shoot with either hand and – as critical as anything – to jump.
“Vertical jump’’ is a measurable used by personnel people in some indirect ways (it can suggest explosiveness, muscle, strength and speed) but mostly in one very direct way. Basketball is a jumping game. Shooting, rebounding and shot-blocking are all things done at and above the rim in the NBA.
Baylor's Brittney Griner cannot, relatively speaking, jump.
Now, I don’t have an official vertical number on her. But we can see on tape that it is not her leaping ability but rather her unique length (along with timing and talent) that allows her to block shots and even to dunk (something she’s done an impressive 18 times in her college career).
The average NCAA women’s player has a vertical leap of 19 inches.
The average NCAA men’s player has a vertical leap of 29 inches.
That’s not “misogyny.’’ That’s science.
Besides the body mass and other skills of somebody like Kaman (again, at this point a run-of-the-mill NBA player) there is the explosive jumping ability that is, simply, the trademark of virtually every person in the NBA. Kaman’s vertical leap coming out of college was 33 inches. Fellow Mavs center Brandan Wright’s vertical is 35 inches. The people you see on TV who look like midgets are actually giants when it comes to explosive (vertical-leap) athleticism.
And if you don’t believe me, Google video of dunks by Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Darren Collison and 5-9 J.J. Barea.
I’m not being disrespectful by noting the differences here. Rather, consider it a compliment to Brittney that we’re actually taking this notion seriously enough to compare her without in any way observing her sex.
And UConn coach Geno Auriemma is certainly not being disrespectful when he, maybe the top dog in the women’s game, tells writer Richard Deitsch, “(Cuban’s) genius would take a huge hit if he drafted Brittney Griner.’’
I admire Brittney’s approach to this. Upon reading Mark’s comments, she tweeted, “I would hold my own! Let’s do it.’’
This is a 22-year-old woman accustomed to achieving wonderful things. She should be allowed to dream. And she should be allowed to let herself be exploited, too. … which is what would happen as soon as she suited up for the NBA’s Summer League in July.
Would it be a fun attention-getter? Certainly, at least until somebody like 5-11 non-prospect Josh Akognon challenges her to a game of 21 and skunks her. Then it wouldn’t be so fun … and the vision of hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to Las Vegas to see her play would immediately dissolve.
Would it be a push of the glass ceiling? No. Even if you believe a glass ceiling exists (and it doesn’t, as that would mean “the man’’ is preventing worthy candidates from rising in the profession), the existence of an unqualified “contender’’ for a “push’’ actually does damage to any real rise.
This would not, could not, be about basketball. Somebody mentioned the “marketing opportunity’’ to Cuban and he said, "It would (be), wouldn't it? See how she could do? That'd sell out a few games."
And “selling out a few games’’ in Las Vegas Summer League is a Mavs priority because the franchise needs the money? Wasting a Mavs second-round pick for “fun’’ is an option because the franchise can afford to pass on real talent? ESPNStats notes that in the last 10 years, 67.9 percent of NBA second-round picks have played in games.
Right now, Dallas owns the 43rd pick. In recent years, Manu Ginobili (57th in 1999), Luis Scola (55th in 2002), Mo Williams 47th in 2003), Monte Ellis (40th in 2005), Marcin Gortat (57th in 2005), Paul Millsap (47th in 2006), Marc Gasol (48th in 2007) rank among the players Cuban’s scouting department would just as soon have a crack at rather than seeing if some Summer League tickets might be peddled.
But hey, if assets are so meaningless and it’s all a goof? It would be “fun,’’ “noteworthy’’ and even “fair’’ to give, say, Justin Bieber a chance to play in the NBA. He’s actually been a revelation in the NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Games … but I’m against the idea and saying so no more makes me a “racist’’ against the white musician than saying so about Brittney makes me a “sexist’’ against her.
What will really happen here? The Mavs personnel department will get back on-task. It will leave the “marketing opportunities’’ to a staff that is already the best in the business in that department. And Ms. Griner will fill out the necessary paperwork to be eligible to be the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft – this month’s WNBA Draft, where the Phoenix Mercury likely has its own basketball- and marketing-related plans for the budding superstar.
But observers who don’t understand the sport can make this be about other things, so if you wish to ask Brittney to be your Rosa Parks or your Sally Ride or your Susan B. Anthony, have at it.
But really, know that in regard to an NBA career, she’s your Bruce Jenner.