When the Philadelphia 76ers hired former WNBA star Lindsey Harding before the season, she became the first black woman to serve as a full-time NBA scout.
Shortly before the 76ers entered the playoffs — they play the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of a tied series Thursday — they made Harding their first female assistant coach and only the sixth current female assistant in the league. Her official title is player development coach.
The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears interviewed Harding for a Q&A that ran Thursday and in it the former Phoenix Mercury draft pick opined on if she envisioned women playing in the NBA one day.
Harding says ‘why not’ on women in NBA
Harding was the first pick of the 2007 WNBA draft after a standout career at Duke. She spent nine years in the league, beginning with the Minnesota Lynx after a draft-day trade and ending with the Phoenix Mercury in 2016. She also played with the Washington Mystics, Atlanta Dream, Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty.
Based on her experience in women’s basketball and her experience scouting for the 76ers, Harding told Spears “why not?” when it comes to women playing in the NBA.
“There are some great players in the league now. From what I’m watching … I am going to throw a name out there everyone knows. Diana Taurasi is one of the best players to ever play the game. She shoots better than the majority of people I have ever seen shoot the ball, men or women. She has respect from pretty much anyone.
I would love to see her try. I am not saying she will lock people up on defense. But the way she moves, shoots, and how smart she is, she’ll get to the free throw line.
People will joke at me and laugh about it. But why not? If we put a boundary on something, then why would it happen? I am a person that thinks outside the box.”
WNBA to NBA: Skill the same, size the problem
Taurasi’s accolades could take up pages: WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, three-time WNBA champion, four-time Olympic gold medalist, six-time EuroLeague champion and possibly a template for the new WNBA logo. She’s a career 43.5 percent shooter, including 36.9 percent from 3-point range.
"If you could put me in a machine that could make me 6-foot-5 and as strong as they were, I could play in the NBA," Taurasi said. "When you talk about how physically superior they are. ... I can't help it. [Sue] can't help it. Skill-wise, knowing the game, there's no difference between men and women ... it would be really hard. It's a long shot."
Which is really what Harding was getting at. The fundamentals are the same from man to woman, but there’s a significant average size difference and a difference in muscle mass. There’s a reason in youth rec leagues the first move a coach makes is putting the taller players in the post; sometimes skill means less than physical gifts.
The 36-year-old Taurasi is listed at 6-foot, 163 pounds. T.J. McConnell is the smallest player on the 76ers roster at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. Comparable. Yet most of the NBA rosters, including the 76ers, are filled with players encroaching on 7-feet, 200-something pounds. And most WNBA rosters are closer to Taurasi’s range.
That’s not to say it couldn’t be done.
David Stern predicted in 2009 a woman would play in the NBA within the next decade — something that clearly didn’t happen. Skeptics at the time also mentioned physicality and muscle. Any woman who attempts to play in the NBA will be up against insurmountable odds based off public perception and pressure. It will take a special type of player to try it in the first place.
If, decades down the road women did start to play in the NBA, the first woman to be drafted would not actually be the first.
Denise Long was drafted by the now Golden State Warriors (née San Francisco) in the late 1960s, though it was a publicity stunt and the NBA voided the pick and the “basketball legend” was found to be true by Los Angeles Times writer Brian Cronin in 2012.
The Utah Jazz (née New Orleans) drafted Lusia “Lucy” Harris in the 1977 draft as the first woman to be drafted in a pick that was not voided. And in 1980, Ann Meyers became the first woman to try out for an NBA team when she did so with the Indiana Pacers.
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