Not a terribly serious post, this. Recently I read an article by a sports reporter who begged that we use our common sense and not compare apples with oranges. He was discussing the winning streak of the Connecticut Lady Huskies, recently snapped at 90, and the longest winning streak in Division 1 college men's basketball, that of the UCLA Bruins under John Wooden, 88 games in a row. The man made the obvious point that the women's game is not the men's game, which is to say, though he did not say it, that if there were no strict segregation of the sexes, there would be no women's game at all. He asked that people give due credit to both teams, and not try to force a comparison that had no point to it. Then he wrote what I think is the silliest sentence on a sports page that I have read in many years, and that is saying quite a lot. He wrote that if the UCLA Bruins played the Lady Huskies 88 times, they would win all 88, and by a margin of at least 30 points.
I am trying to imagine such a game. I am trying to imagine the team with Lew Alcindor (soon to be known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar), with his elegant sky-hook, or the team with that sequoia of a man, Bill Walton. Who is going to cover Alcindor or Walton? Who will prevent them from scoring at will? If they miss the basket inside, who will outleap them to catch the rebound? It is something like imagining Marshall Faulk in a football game against a pretty good high school team. Who is going to tackle him even once? What is to prevent him from scoring every time he carries the ball?
If it is hard to envision the Wooden teams of old, maybe a team nearer our time would make matters easier. I am thinking of the great North Carolina team of the early 1980's. This team was not, perhaps, as great as Wooden's teams, nor did enjoy anything like comparable success. I believe the team made it to two national championship games and won one of them, against Georgetown, on a last-second errant pass thrown right into the hands of the Carolina guard. Now that North Carolina team featured the man who is probably still considered the greatest basketball player who ever lived, Michael Jordan. Right there with Jordan, and perhaps at the time superior to him in skill, was James Worthy, himself an NBA Hall of Famer and one of the fifty greatest to play the game. The third in a stupendous trio was Sam Perkins, who, while never attaining the level of greatness of a Jordan or a Worthy, became a superb NBA player in his own right, in a long career.
So I am attempting to picture Michael Jordan, all six foot six of him, with superlative ability to leap, and with large and nimble hands, being "covered" by one of the Lady Huskies, and for the life of me I cannot do it. I cannot see how he does not drive at will to the basket, or, if he chooses, pass inside to the taller Worthy and the much taller Perkins. Nor can I see how the Lady Huskies, on offense, can possibly penetrate to the inside, being for all intents thicketed by the arms and legs and trunks of men much bigger than they are, and faster, and more agile.
That's just for starters. Thirty points? The height differential alone would be worth thirty points. Then there is the leaping differential. And the strength differential. And the speed differential. And the size of the hands. And the agility of the arms and legs, not encumbered by the woman's angle between the thigh and the calf (that makes for plenty of blown ACL's), nor by the woman's angle between the forearm and the arm from shoulder to elbow. And the size of the basketball, which, even for absolutely free shots, would cut the women's offense by twenty percent, all other things being equal — and of course, all other things would be very far from equal. I do understand that a small men's team can sometimes cause a tall men's team some fits, but they can only do so by means that would be unavailable to the women. They would have to be faster and more agile, playing tenacious defense, and they would have to be able to shoot from the outside. But men shoot from the outside by jump shots, releasing the ball from above the level of the head. One of the most notable things about the women's game is that that is not done. The women lack the strength, or their hands are too small to control the ball that far away from the body, so the "jump" shots are made from the level of the chest, or at best the face. The first time I saw this I was astonished — I could not believe it; I am used to it now. It stands to reason that no man of Michael Jordan's height could make a shot from the outside, with Jordan covering, by such a release. It would be stuffed. Then a fortiori the woman who is smaller and who cannot leap as high will not do it either.
The upshot of it all is this: if you ordered the men to play for keeps, and fined them heavily for every shot the women made from the field, then, not counting a few free throws for a few fouls, Jordan and Worthy and Perkins (and Matt Doherty and Jimmy Black) would basically shut them out. Basketball is a contact sport, and the defending team, especially if they are relatively slow afoot, usually suffers the brunt of an offensive player's legitimate charge; plenty of times the defender is thrust hard to the floor and is called, himself, for the foul. The situation would not only be unfair to the women; it would be perilous. The only question would be, in how many of the 88 games would the women score as many as five baskets from the field. I am guessing that such a thing might happen a few times, but no more.
My brother-in-law has confirmed my suspicion. When he was a freshman playing for a mediocre freshmen boys' team in high school, the girls at Carbondale Area were enjoying a 55-game winning streak, and at least one state championship. So the girls' coach, one Mary Ann Egnatovich, asked his coach whether she could have her team scrimmage against the boys. The boys didn't know what to expect; after all, the girls were juniors and seniors and were State champions. So they scrimmaged, and it was a complete slaughter, and Miss Egnatovich called a halt to it before they were halfway through.
I guess I will be called names for saying these things. Martina Navratilova, a feminist if ever there was one, but also an honest woman, once challenged Vitas Gerulaitis to a match. Martina was simply the Michael Jordan of women's tennis, and Gerulaitis was a very good player, but no superstar. Gerulaitis clobbered her, 6-1, 6-1. I actually believe that Martina's performance was quite impressive; I do not see how anyone but a Martina Navratilova could hold service against a top male player even once a set. Chris Evert, back when she was Chris Evert Lloyd, played regularly against her husband John Lloyd, who was a nobody on the men's singles tour, and never beat him, not even once. And that's tennis, which puts much less of a premium on size and strength than does basketball, and is not a contact sport.
I should add, too, that before the infamous Title IX was passed, tennis and golf were the top women's sports, in that order. Forty years later, after all the social experimentation and the expenditure of millions and the destruction of thousands of boys' and men's teams, golf and tennis are still the top women's sports, only the order has been reversed. It is a fascinating case of enshrining discrimination on Monday (otherwise there are no women's teams), and then outlawing it on Tuesday, when it comes to making up rosters and allocating money.