LONDON -- Australia's 6-8 center Elizabeth Cambage (Tulsa Shock) made Olympic history today as she threw down the first-ever dunk in the Games' women's basketball competition. The 20-year-old's landmark moment came at the 6:14 mark of the third period in Australia's Day 4 match with Russia after Cambage took a feed from veteran point guard Kristi Harrower and slammed it home one-handed, putting, in the words of Opals coach Carrie Graf, "the punctuation mark" on what would become a 12-0 Australian run that broke open what had been to that point an extremely close game.
On Tuesday, Brittney Griner became just the second women to dunk in women's NCAA tournament history in the Baylor Bears 76-59 win over the Florida Gators to advance to the sweet 16. Griner went up strong from the second hash mark and put down a right handed dunk with authority. The 6'8" junior finished with a game high 25 points and a sure spot on Sports Center's top 10.
"I just caught it, palmed it and I just went up and threw it in," said Griner in a post game interview.
Brittney Griner is a game-changer but she wont change the game.
The semantic difference is this: The athletic 6-7 Griner will have an enormous impact every time she steps on the court, and opponents will have to make substantial adjustments to account for her skills and physical gifts; but since theres only one of her, she wont shift the course of the sport into previously uncharted waters.
Though most who are reading this have seen some videos of Griner dunking, the first focused opportunity for the bulk of fans to get a close look at her is Sunday, when Baylor plays Tennessee on ESPN2 (5 p.m. Eastern time). The game itself is unlikely to be a thing of beauty, which is one reason why the DVR is a wonderful invention. The Cowboys at Lambeau or the Eagles at San Diego will probably be more entertaining, but a taped, fast-forward rewind of an undoubtedly sloppy first game of the season will be a perfect way to get to check out the sports latest wunderkind.
And what viewers will see is a long, 6-7 post player whos very athletic for her size. If she were 5-7, she still probably would have been a pretty good high school varsity player, but add those 12 inches, and all of a sudden what Al McGuire used to call an aircraft carrier has just floated onto the court. And float is the operative word, as Griner plays further above the floor than any woman before her, and most likely than any woman for some time to come.
Malcolm Gladwell doesn't understand basketball at all, but the idea he popularized in The Tipping Point could well be good news for the WNBA.
For those who missed out on the simple concept that Gladwell managed to expand to several hundred pages and a best-selling book, a tipping point is that moment when there's profound shift in attitude or action. For example, a pile of sand might be in a nice pyramidal shape, but the addition of one more handful can make it collapse that's the tipping point. In sports terms, when Jim Tracy took over as manager of the Colorado Rockies, that was the tipping point that turned the Rockies from a losing team to a playoff participant.
The WNBA has been around for 13 years now, and the general opinion of the league remained fairly constant for the first 12. Those inside the women's basketball community were generally supportive (though there were some college fans who were unaccountably hostile to the whole idea) and some became rabid fans.
Outside of that small circle of friends, however, it was a different story. Though the 1996 Olympic team played the game at a very high level, the first editions of the ABL and WNBA were less than stellar basketball. Ironically, the initial success of the marketing arm of the WNBA managed to arouse the curiosity of many sports fans, but that curiosity was rewarded with some mighty bad basketball. Sadly, that first impression remained stuck in a lot of people's minds for a long time and only lately has the tide begun to turn.