Poe’s Perspective: Hoops fans are sleeping on the WNBA

I’m looking forward to the day when average, run-of-the-mill sports fans make tired jokes on Twitter about how long they “slept on” the WNBA.

Truthfully, most of America has been sleeping on the league since its inception in 1997. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else —  professional women’s basketball has been around since precisely 14 days after I was born, yet I didn’t watch an entire game until this summer.

Even for women who love basketball, like me, the WNBA hasn’t always been seen as a viable way to enjoy the sport. I remember one of my teammates in high school joking that her boyfriend had switched on a WNBA game one night, figuring she would know the teams or at least enjoy passively watching. My teammate — our starting point guard, who hoped to play in college — laughed and told him to switch it off since it “wasn’t real basketball anyway.”

Obviously, that was ridiculous. But the idea that women’s sports are somehow inherently inferior to the men’s side of the game remains insidiously powerful, and it’s something that has held back the advancement of many leagues.

Until this summer, that is, when the WNBA sparked a sudden wave of exuberance surrounding its latest season. The fervor partly came from NBA rookies and other players, who vocalized their support and enthusiasm for the women’s game. Some of it was fueled by popular media figures like Shea Serrano, who took to Twitter to voice his newfound (and often explicit) love for the Las Vegas Aces all summer.

But the main source of excitement surrounding the league was the game itself. Women’s basketball — believe it or not — is exciting as hell to watch, and this summer it hit a new level. From Liz Cambage shattering single-game records to the explosive impact of A’ja Wilson in Las Vegas, the women’s game is the best it’s ever been. If you were ever thinking of becoming a fan, now is the time.

Attempting to convince someone to watch something new is one of the hardest things in the world. When it comes to TV shows, I feel like a crazy person ranting on and on about why “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” or “The Good Place” necessitates watching right this second. With women’s sports, it’s even more difficult to put into words a defense because, at its core, it seems ridiculous to defend something that is inherently fun to watch.

Most basketball fans can find something to love about the WNBA. The brand might not be as strong as its male counterpart, but it certainly boasts all of the same qualities.

Big name players? Check that off with players like Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Brittney Griner. Heated rivalries? Catch about six seconds of a Lynx vs. Sparks game and you’ll get every amount of grit that anyone could hope for from a rivalry. Jaw dropping plays? Basically guaranteed if Breanna Stewart or Skylar Diggins-Smith is on the court.

There’s no point in debating whether there’s some disparity of talent or play between the NBA and WNBA, because the base line is so damn good. If the WNBA is fun to watch, who cares if the NBA is “better” by some degree? The disparity of talent between leagues doesn’t keep basketball fans from switching the TV effortlessly from NCAA to NBA every spring.

At the end of the day, my point is: If you don’t watch the WNBA, at least respect it. Real NBA players like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James regularly praise the women’s game for its high level of talent. DeAndre Ayton almost cried when he met Diana Taurasi. If respect exists between the two leagues, it should definitely exist between fans of both leagues as well.

Respecting women’s basketball just makes sense. And now is the time to do it, before becoming a fan just seems like a bandwagon effort.

Julia Poe is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Tuesdays.