by Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY Sports
After Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he would consider drafting Baylor's Brittney Griner, the age-old debate took off. Can the girls compete with the boys?
Nancy Lieberman has a better perspective than most. "There's not a man who would sell his soul and let her come down and dunk on him. They are going to knock her on her ass," Lieberman, the first woman to play in a men's professional league, said Wednesday. Since the 6-8 Griner plays the post, there is no way that she can physically compete with NBA players, Lieberman, one of the game's all-time greats, said.
Even so, Lieberman, who played in the USBL in the late 1980s, said if Griner called her tomorrow for advice about the NBA, she would tell her: "Do it, girl. You can do this. You should go out there if you're afforded the opportunity because how many people in their lifetime would? You're going to do what nobody has ever done."
Ann Meyers Drysdale is similarly conflicted, but said she's looking forward to whatever Griner decides to do. If she does make an NBA roster, would she play? Would she be happier sitting on an NBA bench as a pioneer or playing 40 minutes and dominating in the WNBA?
Meyers Drysdale, the only woman ever to sign a free agent contract with an NBA team, the Indiana Pacers, in 1979, also sees the issue from both sides. She is the vice president of the NBA's Phoenix Suns and the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. And the Mercury have the No. 1 pick in the draft on April 15.
"She's a post player, she's 6-8 but with a small frame compared to a man's frame at that position," Meyers Drysdale said. "I'm looking forward to whatever she decides."
Then there was UConn coach Geno Auriemma who said Cuban shouldn't waste his draft pick on June 27.
"I think it would be a sham," Auriemma said Wednesday. "The fact that a woman could actually play right now in the NBA and compete successfully against the level of play that they have is absolutely ludicrous."
"If Brittney Griner tries to make it to an NBA team, I think it would be a public relations thing," Auriemma said on a Final Four teleconference with reporters. Cuban is a financial genius, Auriemma said, but "his genius would take a huge hit if he drafted Brittney Griner."
When told of Auriemma's comments, Hall of Famer Lynette Woodard, the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters in the mid-1980s, disagreed."That's just one man's opinion," she said.
Woodard said Griner could make a NBA roster. "She's done things in the game no one else has," the Hall of Famer said. "Anyone who can catch, drop step while turning around to dunk on you is undoubtedly the greatest player ever."
Woodard said Griner has the potential to move to the two or three spot, which is what she would likely have to play in the NBA. Woodard said she's seen Griner run the floor before recalling a time she watched Griner, in her pre-Baylor days, compete against guys.
Cuban reiterated his interest in Griner on Wednesday. "We evaluate every draft eligible player on the planet," Cuban told USA TODAY Sports in an email when asked to respond to Auriemma's comments. "The chance of any college graduate selected at the end of the draft making a roster is very, very small. We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't consider everyone.
"As I told the media (Tuesday), she would have to excel in workouts to get drafted. I have no problem giving her that opportunity. I hope she gives it a shot.
"Nothing harms an organization or company more than a closed mind."
As for Griner, she's game. "@mcuban so when do I show up for try-outs!!!" she tweeted.
To make an NBA roster, it will take more than skill, Meyers Drysdale said. The greater challenges would come from factors beyond the court.
"It would be the media, what people are tweeting, web sites. Even now they've questioned her gender. Why are people so mean to her? She's a great kid," Meyers Drysdale said shortly before doing double-duty as a broadcaster for the Suns' game Wednesday. "She would be traveling on the road, the innuendoes what people would say. What would wives, girlfriends say? The loneliness of being on the road. That's the tough part. The playing part would probably be easy."
Copyright 2013 USATODAY.com