There's a first time for everything, and for Associated Press Women's Player Of The Year Brittney Griner, that first could be to become the first female player to take the court in the NBA.
Next year, that is.
In response to a potential offer from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to tryout for the team, Griner offered gratitude and stated that she wants to spend a year honing her skills in the WNBA, where she is expected to be the first overall selection of the Phoenix Mercury in tonight's WNBA Draft.
A year can do many things to different people.
What it can't or at least probably won't do, is give Griner the one thing her game is missing: size.
A natural at the center position, Griner has a tremendous inside game and is a masterful defensive player, having all of the makings of Bill Russell, including being undersized.
Russell's most famous battles were against the taller and heavier Wilt Chamberlain, who had a four inch height and 50 pounds weight advantage over the 6'9” 220lb Boston Celtic. Yet Russell's Celtics routinely defeated Chamberlain's 76ers and Lakers teams, behind his immeasurable tenacity and heart.
For comparisons sake, Griner, if able to make it to the NBA level, will have to prove that she can play against the likes of Dwight Howard, the current premier NBA center, who is three inches taller and 50 pounds heavier.
Griner will have her work cut out for her and, if we are being completely honest, the deck stacked against her. She won't even be the first female player to tryout for the NBA. That belongs to Ann Meyers, who tried out for Indiana in 1979. Myers, listed at 5'9”, did not survive her three day tryout, and went to work for the team as a broadcaster instead.
There has been little gender-neutral play between men's and women's sports, especially basketball, where things quickly become more of a media spectacle rather than to gauge how good a player is, regardless of gender.
Firsts in sports and society often lead to people balking at what are fair ideas. Griner may or may not have a fantastic NBA career, that is truthfully up in the air, regardless of what you or I want to believe. And it is her decision if she wants to open that door and see what the future holds.
I would hope that we are all granted the opportunity to view another first for both sports and society, that people would receive the idea of a female NBA player with open minds. I would hope that the media gives the scene its due coverage, keeping it a spectacle, not a circus.
Joanne P. McAllie, head coach of the Duke women's basketball team, has voiced that Griner would not be on an equal playing field, and that people need to remember who they are.
Tell that to Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, who lasted 14 years in the NBA while standing just 5'3” and weighing 141 pounds.
Firsts happen in sports every year, and it's time for another. Russell and Bogues were too small. Griner is female and undersized by NBA standards, both perceived wrongly as weaknesses.
They are obstacles to overcome, and barriers to bring down.
Griner is an upstanding citizen who will continue to contribute to society, so she has already earned my respect. But if she chooses to become a symbol rather than a mere player, I will, of course, choose to applaud her and you should too.
Win or lose, it's the right thing to do.