No, we shouldn't lower the rim for more dunks in women's basketball

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candace parker
Basketball isn't all about dunks - just ask Steph Curry. So why should we force women's basketball stars to relearn the game in pursuit of more slams? AP Photo/Mike Carlson
  • Shaq reignited the debate on lowering the rims in women's basketball during an "NBA on TNT" segment.

  • Bringing down the hoops in pursuit of more WNBA and NCAA women's basksetball dunks is a dumb idea.

  • It would be "offensive" to force stars to relearn the game and discredit those who can already dunk.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

For as long as the WNBA has been around, laymen and experts alike have offered up ideas for altering the game in a misguided attempt to make the women's side of basketball more appealing to a broader audience.

Shaq
Shaquille O'Neal. Getty/E! Entertainment

Shaquille O'Neal was the latest contestant to partake in this all-too-common game of fixing something that isn't broken. He offered unsolicited advice to two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker during a recent segment of "NBA on TNT." The NBA Hall of Famer suggested that the perfect way to make the NBA and the WNBA "equal" would be to "lower the rim so y'all can dunk like we dunk."

"That'll give y'all more 'oomph' than you already have," Shaq added.

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Parker didn't give his suggestion much consideration, rolling her eyes and responding with a simple "no." Though curt, the six-time first-team All-WNBA selection and reigning Defensive Player of the Year's reaction spoke volumes. Women in basketball - even those of Parker's caliber - are constantly subjected to the unfortunate and, frankly, annoying take that their play is essentially worthless without dunks.

Shaq's ill-advised suggestion opened the floodgates, empowering men across the internet to second his sentiment that yes, they'd give women's sports a chance if only they adapted to be more like men's sports. And even though many have explained the reasons for keeping the rims where they are, here is why lowering the hoops in pursuit of women's basketball dunks is a dumb idea.

elena delle donne block
Elena Delle Donne blocks a shot from Liz Cambage. Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Let's start with the obvious - many women can already dunk

Shaq seems to have missed that WNBA stars have dunked throughout the league's 25-year history. In 2002, Los Angeles Sparks legend Lisa Leslie became the first player to dunk in a WNBA game. Since then, six other players have joined her in the WNBA dunking club - and Parker is one of them.

The now-Chicago Sky star first dunked in a Sparks game in 2008, slamming a cherry on top of her historic rookie campaign as the only player to win Rookie of the Year and league MVP in the same season. Here's the highlight:

At least two current NCAA women's college basketball stars showed off their hops this season. Stanford forward Fran Belibi threw down a handful of dunks during the Cardinal's 2020-2021 campaign. And the Oregon Ducks' in-house TikTok star, 6-foot-7 sophomore Sedona Prince, silenced naysayers by sharing a one-handed slam in warm-ups during the NCAA tournament.

Even Shaq's own daughter can dunk on a regulation rim! When she was 13, Me'arah O'Neal rose for a dunk on a 10-foot hoop in a video shared by her brother, LSU Tigers star Shareef O'Neal.

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Players would have to completely relearn the game

In 2018, Nneka Ogwumike - a superstar in her own right and the president of the Women's National Basketball Players Association - brilliantly explained why questioning the height of the baskets is "probably one of the most offensive questions you can ask a WNBA player."

"It's not logical to ask us to do that," she said. "We're constantly being compared to men. We have people excelling at a 10-foot rim. And now, you want us to lower the rim so we can continuously be compared, only to still be criticized. Because now, you have someone like me who has done what she's done - now I have to relearn the game to appease people who don't want to watch it for what it is."

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The six-time All-Star and 2016 WNBA MVP has a point; lowering the rim would force players like herself and Parker to adapt their shooting strokes, approaches to rebounding, floor positioning, and so much more. And even then, there's a decent chance that the switch would not compel critics to tune in.

nneka ogwumike
Nneka Ogwumike. Gregory Payan/AP Images

Ogwumike echoed similar sentiments while speaking in a Clubhouse room hosted by Insider in early March. The LA Sportsperson of the Year said the dunking narrative is "played out." Anyone suggesting women's basketball needs more dunks to be interesting, Ogwumike added, would almost certainly find some other excuse not to watch if the league granted their wish.

She and others who partook in the conversation also noted that basketball isn't all about dunking.

Some of the NBA's best and brightest aren't known for their dunking ability

No one tunes into a Golden State Warriors game expecting Steph Curry to put his opponents on a poster. The two-time NBA MVP has only thrown down some 30 dunks in his 12 seasons in the league.

steph curry 2021
Steph Curry. Eric Gay/AP Images

Still, Curry has long been one of the most exciting and engaging players in the pros. His jerseys are regularly among the top-10 highest-selling threads in the NBA. And even though he commands one of the league's top salaries, the seven-time All-Star makes even more money each year from endorsements.

Curry isn't the only NBA superstar with megawatt brand value who isn't much of a dunker. James Harden, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Trae Young, and plenty of other All-Stars rarely rise above the rim, if at all.

It stands to reason that fans of those players are not watching basketball solely for the dunks. And maybe they could strike up an interest in stars on the women's side whose games resemble Curry's and other backcourt players in the NBA, including Sabrina Ionescu, Diana Taurasi, Arike Ogunbowale, Paige Bueckers, and Caitlin Clark.

The WNBA and NCAA women's basketball have already achieved record-breaking successes

breanna stewart.JPG
WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart celebrates the Seattle Storm's 2020 WNBA championship win. Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

2020 was a standout year for the WNBA on the engagement front. Thanks to a massive broadcast deal with ESPN, the league had more televised games than ever before. Unprecedented viewership followed as the WNBA saw a 68% increase in its regular-season audience, a 15% viewership jump for the finals, and 30% more engagement across social media.

The 2021 NCAA women's tournament has significant momentum as well, and it's little surprise given that this year marks the first in which all women's March Madness games were carried on national television. According to The Athletic, UConn and Iowa's Sweet Sixteen matchup garnered 1.6 million viewers, while 1.7 million people watched as UConn downed Baylor in the Elite Eight.

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UConn freshman Paige Bueckers has been one of the stars of March Madness this year. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the WNBA and NCAA women's basketball can win over fans without lowering the rims after all; it certainly looks like they already have.

And I'd implore Shaq and others engaging in the "women need to dunk" narrative to consider this; perhaps it's not the product on the court that needs fixing so much as the system that has routinely denied women's basketball its proper share of the spotlight.

Read the original article on Insider