News / USA

WNBA is Woman’s World, Guided by Men

Half of women's basketball league coaches are men

The Los Angeles women’s pro team’s newest coach - and the 6th out of 12 male team bosses - is Joe 'Jellybean' Bryant.
The Los Angeles women’s pro team’s newest coach - and the 6th out of 12 male team bosses - is Joe 'Jellybean' Bryant.

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Ted Landphair

“We Got Game.”

That’s what the Women’s National Basketball Association - or WNBA - promised when the league was formed in 1996.

It set out to prove that women play an exciting, team-oriented game - albeit with fewer egocentric chest thumps and high-flying dunks of the basketball than muscular male players deliver.

The WNBA has survived with little television exposure into its 15th summer, thanks to extensive financial help from the male professional league and solid attendance in a few of its markets.

Other cities have not embraced the women’s game so well, however, and several WNBA franchises have folded over the years.

Donna Orender, who retired as WNBA commissioner after last season, said the best available coaches should be hired, period.
Donna Orender, who retired as WNBA commissioner after last season, said the best available coaches should be hired, period.

While the women’s pro game has been especially attractive to female fans - and an inspiration to female players who finally have a place to make a living at the sport - it has also drawn many male spectators, who say they appreciate unselfish play.

But an irritant for some in the league is that half of the 12 WNBA head coaches are men.  Already this year, the Los Angeles Sparks franchise fired its woman head coach and replaced her with a man - the father of Kobe Bryant, the superstar guard of the L.A. Lakers men’s basketball team.

Some of these coaches are former professional players who are using the women’s league as an entrée to coaching.  Others are retreads, having been fired from men’s pro or college teams. They all say they love directing hard-working female players.

One sign that the WNBA may finally have 'arrived' as a sports fixture: last year’s champions were featured on a Wheaties cereal box.
One sign that the WNBA may finally have 'arrived' as a sports fixture: last year’s champions were featured on a Wheaties cereal box.

And what do women WNBA coaches think?  

“There are a lot of great women’s coaches who haven’t gotten a chance,” Anne Donovan told the Washington Times newspaper a few years ago when she coached the Seattle Storm.  She was replaced by a man, moved to the New York Liberty team, left for a college job, and was succeeded by yet another male head coach.

League presidents, who have always been women, are appointed by the male National Basketball Association’s commissioner.  

No woman has ever coached a men’s NBA team or a top-level men’s college team. So it’s a sore point for some that a majority of the coaches of women who “got game” - and more than one-third of women’s college teams - have deep voices, facial hair and, in quite a few cases, receding hairlines.

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