On Eve of Title Game, WNBA Wins Fans
WNBA fans have filled the US Airways Center in Phoenix and Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. They have purchased jerseys and T-shirts and, most importantly, tickets.
They have given the league a huge boost, a proper sendoff for a 13th season that has been marked by the retirement of a legend (Lisa Leslie), stories about comebacks and motherhood (Candace Parker) and a knock-down, drag-out final between two teams sporting some of the most exciting, talented players in the world. It's a fight that ends Friday night in Phoenix with the host Mercury taking on the visiting Indiana Fever in a winner-take-all title game.
As a bonus to the outstanding product on the floor, the WNBA has gotten some high-profile validation from some very valuable, credible sources.
Arizona Cardinal's wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald -- the biggest sports star in the desert -- pulled up a sideline seat in Phoenix last week for Game 2.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning -- also a pretty big star in his town -- couldn't make it to Conseco on Sunday for Game 3. He was busy playing down the block, beating the Seattle Seahawks. But he was there, Wednesday night, in a luxury box at the Fieldhouse.
Other marquee names have done more than show up.
Larry Bird, the NBA legend and president of the Indiana Pacers, bought all the balcony seats at Conseco for the final game of the Fever's run in the Eastern Conference finals. He gave them away for free. By the time Indiana returned to town for the Finals, there was no more need for free tickets. There were no more tickets.
The local newspaper on Sunday included a large ad purchased by the Colts, wishing the Fever luck in the Finals.
In Phoenix, they followed Bird's lead. Steve Kerr, the Suns general manager, bought out the top section of the arena for Game 1, gave the tickets away for free and the seats were about half-full. Suns coach Alvin Gentry picked up the baton for Game 2 and the sections were nearly full as the game drew more than 16,000.
Now, for Game 5, those same tickets have been picked up by the Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire, Grant Hill and Steve Nash.
The WNBA needs these men, who have credibility with other men and impressive sporting resumes of their own, to show their support for the women, to show that it's OK to appreciate and even root for these teams.
It's one thing for the WNBA to say "Expect Great." It's another for a Super Bowl champion, one of the most visible athletes in this country, to show up because he does.
The league knows its fan base, knows who appreciates the game and who ridicules and degrades it with a hostility that, after all this time, is still difficult to comprehend.
And they know that most of the mainstream male sports fans are probably never coming to their televisions to watch a game or an arena to see their product. But a few more might. And they might tell their friends.
Because if it's good enough for Larry Bird, or Larry Fitzgerald, or Steve Nash, or Peyton Manning, if its good enough for a basketball hotbed such as Indiana, if its good enough for 18,000 people to come out two straight games ... it's just good enough.