Rebecca Lobo says the naysayers should take a look before deciding the WNBA isn’t worthy of watching.
“People can say whatever they want at this point, but they should turn on the game and make their judgments,” the Olympic gold medalist said as the New York Liberty prepared to meet the Los Angeles Sparks today in the inaugural game of the women’s league.
The 6-foot-4 Lobo is listed as center-forward for the Liberty, but in this case she is acting as a point guard, hoping her words and play will help the NBA-backed league earn some early credibility.
“It’s a great matchup,” said Lobo, whose team plays one of four games scheduled on the first weekend. “The big buildup is Rebecca vs. Lisa.”
That would be Lisa Leslie, the 6-5 center of the Sparks, an Olympic teammate of Lobo and a model. Leslie is using her notoriety to sell the league.
“Don’t forget to come out to our games,” she said while signing autographs at a Lakers’ game this season. “Come out and support us.”
Should they do so for the opener - a crowd of 7,500 is expected at the Forum - what they are likely to see is a contrast in styles. Lobo has worked to become more physical. Despite her size, Leslie has point-guard quickness.
But the show they put on, and the rest of the early games, should not be used as a barometer of progress.
“You can only do so much with hype,” New York-based sports marketeer Marty Blackman said. “Look at attendance a month from now, and let’s talk.”
In other games today, it will be the Houston Comets at the Cleveland Rockers, and the Sacramento Monarchs at the Utah Starzz. The debut weekend concludes Sunday, when the Charlotte Sting visit the Phoenix Mercury.
The Liberty-Sparks and Sting-Mercury games will be televised at 1 p.m. PDT by NBC. ESPN and Lifetime will air some weeknight games.
Lobo hit the weight room after the Olympics, saying she needed more strength to counter Leslie - her foremost practice combatant last summer at Atlanta.
“I was tired of getting bumped around,” Lobo said. “It was very physical.”
Very business-like is the way Sparks guard Jamila Wideman is regarding the league.
“In just a few months, it went from no opportunity to incredible opportunities,” said Wideman, a recent Stanford grad who opted for the WNBA over the season-old American Basketball League.
Prior to the formation of the leagues, there was no place in the country for top players to continue their careers. But how long this remains a two-league country is the subject of conjecture.
The ABL, which signed more of the top-flight talent, and the WNBA insist there are no plans to merge.