SECAUCUS, New Jersey — At a press conference held yesterday at Women National Basketball Association (WNBA) headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey, WNBA president Laurel J. Richie introduced retired NBA star Jason Collins as the WNBA Director of Transgender Recruitment and Training.
Ms. Richie said Mr. Collins, the first openly gay athlete to play in a major professional American sports league, will spearhead a two-year initiative to transform the WNBA to a more athletic style of play.
“He’ll direct a worldwide effort to locate, recruit, sign, and train fully transitioned male-to-female transgender women who have completed sex-change surgery,” Ms. Richie said.
According to Ms. Richie, the WNBA has been inundated with thousands of inquiries over several years “from transgenders of all stripes” seeking to play in the Association.
“However, we never found anyone that met our height standard of being at least 6 feet 7 inches tall and our primary skill requirement of being able to jump almost as high as a comparable-size man. So that’s why we hired Jason.”
Ms. Richie said: “The Association’s criteria are narrowly defined and very demanding. We’re looking for the complete package. We’re not looking for transvestites, cross-dressing males, cross-dressing females, drag queens, drag kings, shemales, or genderqueers. A candidate must have undergone full surgical transition. We want people who are fully committed.”
We want people who are fully committed.
The completion date of the initiative coincides with the WNBA’s 20th anniversary season, in 2017. Ms. Richie believes as a result of the training regimen implemented by Mr. Collins fans can expect more exciting, more drama-filled WNBA games.
Speaking with reporters after the press conference, the former Procter & Gamble executive was coy on details of the improved style of play but promised more information before the 2017 season.
But Dee Dee Hunter, longtime WNBA critic, former ESPN Insider, and editor of the sports blog “Lower The Rim To 7 Feet,” believes the WNBA is under tremendous pressure to increase attendance or the 20th season could be the last.
Mr. Hunter said according to his well-placed sources team owners and the NBA are not happy with the current direction of the Association. “They may drop the league if teams can’t get attendance up at least around 10,000 per game,” he said.
According to WNBA statistics, the 12-team league averaged just over 7,500 fans per game in 2014. Although the average has increased over the past 2 years, attendance pales compared to the heyday of high attendance in the late 1990s. The Phoenix Mercury franchise is the only team that averages close to 10,000 fans per game.
“If they don’t pick things up, the NBA has threaten to convert them into a European-style dodgeball league, have them wear shorty-short Daisy Duke pants and jerseys showing off just about everything they’ve got up there,” said Mr. Hunter.
“And they gotta do more than just show proper footwork and good techniques. So they’re trying to bump their game up a notch to exciting.”
A main element of Mr. Collins’ training program will be to teach the new recruits dunking skills and methods, Ms. Richie told reporters.
“They have set a goal to get of at least 3 dunks per quarter or as close to 12 per game as possible, which they think will get more fans into the arenas and get them bigger TV revenue,” Mr. Hunter said.
Ms. Richie said Mr. Collins would immediately embark on a scouting trip to the San Francisco Bay area.
Mr. Collins, renowned for his vast arsenal of explosive, thunderous, creative dunks during his 13-seasons NBA career, said the WNBA can “expect great” excitement from his contribution to the Association.
“It’s a unique opportunity, and I’m thrilled to be able to teach high-level skills to a new breed of ballers,” Mr. Collins said.
Aaron “Big Boy” Williamson reports on sports.