OK people, it's time for a reality check.
I'll just come out and say it: No current female basketball player would be able to compete in the NBA. That includes Baylor center Brittney Griner.
I wish we could stop having this conversation and just appreciate the women's game on its own merits, because as this year's NCAA tournament has shown, there is much to admire. But Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stirred the pot, saying he would consider taking Griner with a late second-round pick in June's NBA draft -- and now everyone is once again measuring female ballers in relation to their male counterparts.
These constant comparisons do little more than reinforce the notion that the women are somehow second-class players, instead of world-class in their own right. I don't see soccer fans wondering if U.S. star Alex Morgan could suit up for Manchester United, and yet the idea of a woman playing in the NBA is apparently a debate worth having in some circles.
So let's have it. Why couldn't Griner hold her own in the NBA on a daily basis?
There is no doubt the 6-foot-8 Griner has brought a new dimension to the women's game, displaying an athleticism we've never seen before in a female player her size.
She is neither the most skilled player in the women's game, nor is she the most athletic, but she possesses a combination of size, athleticism and skill that's unmatched.
Of course, when you broaden the parameters to include the men's game, this no longer holds true. The NBA has evolved to the point where a 6-8 player must possess solid perimeter skills, both as a shooter and as a ball handler.
If any woman could legitimately play in the league, she almost certainly would have to be a perimeter player, someone who could operate in the open floor and create her own offense -- someone whose skills wouldn't be as hampered by the overwhelming size and strength of the NBA's interior players. And even then, she would encounter other hurdles, such as the speed and quickness possessed by NBA guards.
Griner is a low-post player, which means size and strength would rule the day. In the NBA, she would be undersized for a center and under-skilled as a forward.
Does anyone believe former NBA center Shaquille O'Neal had the skills to play shooting guard in NBAX, a hypothetical league I just made up in which the starting centers are all 8 feet tall? Because that's basically what we're saying here: We're taking a player who was dominant in one setting -- women's college basketball for Griner -- and putting her in a radically different league where she would need a skill set that's irrelevant to the game she now plays.
Yes, the women's game is better than ever. But female athletes aren't the only ones getting bigger, faster and stronger. Male athletes are evolving, too. So it's not like this is a shrinking gap and someday women will catch up. Both are moving forward together.
When I played at the University of Colorado, my teammates and I often worked out during the summer with players on the men's team. We'd all spend an hour or so executing the same drills, one person after another. I would speed dribble in from half court, cross over at the 3-point line and shoot a pull-up jumper. Then the guy behind me would do the same thing. I would curl out of the corner, catch a pass, pump fake and drive baseline to finish at the hoop. Then he would do it, too.
We could each execute the move with the same precision. On his jump shot, though, he would rise higher than I could; on his drive to the hoop, he'd finish at the rim, whereas I ended up somewhere below it.
After drills, we headed off to play pick-up -- men on one court, women on another court. But when we took off our sneakers at the end of the day, we all knew we had put in the same amount of work to get better.
Women's basketball legend Nancy Lieberman has said she's in favor of Cuban giving Griner a shot, adding, "There's no downside to trying." There isn't? If I believed a woman could truly compete in the NBA, I would want every door opened to her. But if Griner played in the NBA Summer League, the burden of performance and the risk of embarrassment would be hers, not Cuban's. She has already carried so much weight on her shoulders; why be part of a spectacle that would reveal her game -- or any woman's game -- to be lacking at the NBA level?
On Tuesday night, inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant sat behind the Louisville women's bench and watched the Cardinals play Tennessee in the regional final of the NCAA tournament. The NBA star was also present two days earlier, when Louisville knocked off top-seeded Baylor. Durant, one of the best basketball players on the planet, has been vocal about his support of the women's game, no doubt because he knows that learning an effective step-back jumper takes years of practice, regardless of gender.
So you can bet when Durant watches Louisville guard Shoni Schimmel wrap the ball around her back, spin and finish with a bank shot in the lane, he's not thinking, Lame, I would have dunked that. And when Schimmel crosses over and drains a 3 from NBA territory, Durant can't help but smile, because he knows how many hours of work it took Schimmel to own those moves.
Game recognizes game, and the best players know that the main difference between the men and the women is something completely out of their control: a threshold for athleticism bestowed upon them at birth.
No, a female player can't compete in today's NBA. But why should it matter?
Kevin Durant doesn't seem to care. When he walked into Louisville's locker room after the Cardinals shocked the basketball world Sunday night, he just wanted to congratulate them for playing some crazy good hoops.
Isn't that enough?