Why aren't you watching the WNBA?
For most Americans, August means beaches, parks, and lots and lots of air conditioning. But for sports fans, it means only one thing: boredom. Football is a month away, soccer's early days are more exciting in the transfer market than on the field, and baseball's August daydreams are so dull that the sport co-opted the phrase "dog days of summer" to shorthand the doldrums.
So, what's an enterprising sports fan to do this month? Easy: Watch the WNBA, which is in the midst of one of its most exciting seasons ever.
For starters, the WNBA's star power has never been brighter. If you want pure dominance, take the Seattle Storm, who have, well, stormed the league this season. The Storm (21-7) are bearing down on the No. 1 overall seed thanks to leading MVP candidate Breanna Stewart; the former UConn star is averaging 23 points and 8 rebounds to go along with 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
Up north, Minnesota Lynx stalwart Sylvia Fowles has been having the season of a lifetime on both sides of the ball. She's the best defensive player in the association, and she might be the most dangerous paint scorer in recent memory. Look east and you'll find the Atlanta Dream, where guard Tiffany Hayes is averaging 18 points per game on 47 percent shooting. That marksmanship includes a wicked buzzer-beater she hit last month to propel her team to victory over the Connecticut Sun:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 18, 2018
Meanwhile, Phoenix's name-brand big three of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and DeWanna Bonner are reminiscent of an NBA big three: the erstwhile Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. How far Phoenix goes in the playoffs will depend on their stars, because their ranks are thin otherwise. But given that Taurasi is the WNBA's all-time leading scorer and Griner can easily fill the box score on any given night — like, say, pouring in 29 points to go with 10 rebounds and three blocks — they may not need much else come playoff time.
But while big names may draw eyeballs, do they translate to in-game magic?
Yes. Yes they do. If you've been paying attention to Twitter throughout the season, you might have noticed there's been a rise of buzzer beaters in the WNBA. Starting from the opening game, where the Los Angeles Sparks' Chelsea Gray sank the defending champion Lynx at the buzzer, it seems like we can't go a week without a bonkers finish to a game. We already covered Hayes' miraculous half-court heave, but let's not forget Elena Delle Donne nailing this deep three to give her Washington Mystics the win over the New York Liberty. Take a glance at the clock — she had just 0.6 seconds to bury this jumper:
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) June 29, 2018
Because the WNBA is smaller than the NBA, each team has a real chance to land stars. The increasing focus on women's college basketball has deepened the player pool, too, so that all 12 teams can fight for playoff contention in a given year. That leads to closer games, with more recognizable stars for casual fans to latch on to.
If you're still not sold on putting in the effort to learn a whole new league, fret not: It's never been easier to get into the WNBA. WNBA League Pass is just as essential as its NBA counterpart, but at a steal of a price: For just $17, you get access to nearly every game of the regular season, and while it's less of a bargain with just two weeks to go, it's still one of the most "bang for your buck" streaming deals out there. You'll still be able to watch enough games that by the time the playoffs roll around later this month, you'll know all about Liz Cambage, the Dallas Wings' scoring machine, ever-present Sparks star Candace Parker, and recent Slam cover star Maya Moore of the Lynx.
And if live basketball is what you crave, I can guarantee that you will get better seats at a WNBA game for cheaper than pretty much any other major sport. That's not to say the quality isn't great; it's just a reality of the current market. Imagine being in the building for Hayes' incredible buzzer-beater and still having money left over so you don't feel gouged by the StubHub mafia. Plus, a WNBA game is much more amenable to a family outing: The lower prices make it a more affordable option, plus the average WNBA crowd is likely more encouraging and friendly for little kids, compared to one filled to the brim with angry fans watching a chippy on-court product.
Unfortunately, a statement as simple as "watch fun basketball" is going to be met with skepticism by the most macho dullards. But pay them no mind. Yes, gasp, it's women you're going to see on the court — but the truth is that the WNBA may be more fun to watch right now than the NBA. The women's league is currently more balanced, and thus far more intriguing. There's no talent monopoly here like what the Golden State Warriors have; the Lynx come closest, but they at least have the courtesy to only win every other year, claiming four titles since 2011. Add a bit of historical dominance to the curious uncertainty that surrounds the league's upstart stars, and there's plenty to get invested in.
But perhaps the WNBA's biggest perk — and the main reason you should start watching right now, as we head into the playoffs — is that it smartly eschews conferences in its postseason. The top eight teams in the league make it into the playoffs, no matter their conference, and seeding decides who has byes into the second round (the third and fourth seeds) and who will go straight into the semifinals (the first and second). The first two rounds are also single elimination — and if there's anything March Madness has taught us, it's that sports fans go wild for "do or die" games with high stakes.
Look, if you want to spend August watching hours and hours of golf, I'm not going to stop you. But you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't tune in to the best league going right now. There are no dog days of summer in the WNBA.