Team USA Wins Women's Basketball Gold, Again. America Yawns and Flips to Wrestling, Again.

A Blog About the Olympic Games
Aug. 11 2012 8:47 PM

Team USA Wins Women's Basketball Gold, Again. America Yawns and Flips to Wrestling, Again.

Women's Basketball
Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi of the United States celebrate after defeating France 86-50 to win the gold medal in the women's basketball gold medal game.

Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

In an outcome that surprised no one, the U.S. women’s basketball team won its fifth straight gold on Saturday, beating France by 36 points. In an Olympics filled with dominant athletes, the U.S. women can play rock, paper, scissors with the Chinese table tennis team to figure out who was the best of the best. In the qualifying rounds, Team USA beat their opponents by a combined 183 points; the next highest point differential was 37. They played one close game in the entire Olympics, against Australia, and it wasn’t even that close: They won by 13.

The U.S. has won seven of the 10 gold medals ever awarded in women’s basketball and has lost one Olympic game in the past 30 years. And yet, few people seem to care. As Yahoo’s Les Carpenter wrote, “the U.S. women's basketball team will stand on the podium, as it has done for the past four Olympics, watch its flag rise, and wonder why dominance doesn't matter in a basketball country in love with winning.” Some, including coach Geno Auriemma, think it’s because Team USA is too good—that their dominance dissuades people from watching. But that doesn’t make any sense. Sports fans love dominant performances. If people didn’t like to watch athletes who were too good for their own good, then they’d pay no attention to Usain Bolt.

Advertisement

Let’s not over-analyze this: It’s not that Team USA is too dominant, it’s just that women’s basketball isn’t popular. Regular-season WNBA attendance has steadily declined since 1998, the league’s second year in existence. In 2011, the 11 WNBA games broadcast on ESPN2 averaged 270,000 viewers, slightly less than the year’s lowest rated network TV program, the CW’s L.A. Complex.

I’d bet that most people could only name a couple of active women’s basketball players. The most famous player on Team USA, Candace Parker, occasionally makes headlines when she dunks in a game. But almost every player in the NBA can dunk a basketball—even the bad ones, like Brian Scalabrine. I’ve dunked a basketball before, and I’m horrible at basketball.

This is why, even though professional women’s soccer has had a rocky history in the United States, the future looks brighter for Alex Morgan and co. than for Parker and her teammates. Women’s soccer doesn’t look substantially different from the men’s version. But as the Olympics have shown, there is an unbridgeable chasm between men’s and women’s hoops.

The American men have run up the score in London and they’ve done it with panache. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, et al., have shot 53 percent from the field in seven games while making 45 percent of their three pointers, an impressive shooting display befitting the best team in the world. The women, by contrast, shot under 50 percent from the field in six of their eight wins. And from behind the three-point line, Team USA shot a not-so-impressive 30 percent. In the end, they destroyed the competition and didn’t look all that amazing doing it.

“I'm sure if we were to lose a game we would become way more famous than we are now,” said Auriemma before today’s gold medal match. But it seems more likely that, if Team USA lost a game, they’d remain what they are today: a very good team that not that many people care to watch.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 12:36 PM Krispy Kreme Stuffed Half a Million Calories Into One Box of Doughnuts
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 23 2014 11:33 AM High-Concept Stuff Designed to Remind People That They Don’t Need Stuff  
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon Who Wasn’t
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google Exec: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.