Kovacevic: It's OK to be like Tamika, too

| Friday, July 6, 2012, 12:10 a.m.

Anyone immersed in the recent NBA Finals had to come away with one overwhelming impression: LeBron James, a champion at long last, is The Man.

What LeBron still isn't, apparently, is The Woman.

It takes some doing for any pro basketball story to register on my radar, never mind one that whizzes across the laptop screen via the fickle form of Twitter. But there it was a few days ago, this beauty from the official @WNBA account:

“NBA Stats has created a new formula that allows us to accurately compare individual players between NBA/WNBA!”

Oh, boy/girl!

I clicked anyway.

“NBA Stats has developed a new rating called the Player Impact Estimate, or PIE, that calculates a player's impact on each game,” the article on WNBA.com explained. “It eliminates statistical biases created by league, style of play or even era.”

Or gender?

“And now, thanks to PIE, we can make a definitive link between Tamika Catchings and LeBron James.”

Forehead, meet desk.

Why, why, why is it so common in women's sports to compare to the men?

I have to tell you, when I had the thrill of a lifetime covering the 100 meters at the Athens Olympics right at track level, the experience of watching the world's eight fastest women sprinting toward me wouldn't have been improved in the slightest by, say, how they'd run against Usain Bolt.

Unfortunately, this practice of false — and forced — equivalency happens everywhere.

When the great Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt gracefully stepped down to focus on her fight with Alzheimer's, she did so with eight NCAA titles, more than anyone in her profession. And yet it was stated again and again that those titles were second only to UCLA legend John Wooden for “men or women.” As if her own case wasn't strong enough.

When Pitt guard Shavonte Zellous in 2009 became the first player in school history to score 600-plus points in three separate seasons, it often was accompanied by “men or women.”

Given how Zellous raised Agnus Berenato's program to new heights, that clause actually diminished her work. With it, she was just another player among Jamie Dixon's men.

Women's sports are different. They are their own entity.

With few exceptions, there are different rules, different balls, different tactics, and, yes, that's because the different genders make for different skill sets. Let's not pretend otherwise. You won't see Cammi Granato firing 100-mph slap shots or Jennie Finch challenging Justin Verlander's fastball.

That's not a deficiency. That's DNA.

At the same time, women's sports have traits that can make their brand better. You won't often see dunks in women's basketball, but you'll see an actual bounce pass. You won't see 120-mph aces in women's tennis, but you'll see edge-of-your-seat serve-and-volley action. It's flat-out more fun to watch.

Sloane Martin, a radio reporter in Western New York and women's sports advocate, sounds just as put off by PIE as I am.

“Can't Maya Moore be great by virtue of being Maya Moore?” Martin said of the WNBA star. “Or does she have to have Kobe Bryant's competitiveness and Dwyane Wade's scoring? Even if it's flattery, there's always a message that these players aren't good enough just being themselves.”

Suzie McConnell-Serio, the Duquesne women's basketball coach and as accomplished a female athlete as our region has produced, sees a positive to the practice.

“I think they're just letting people know what the equivalent is on the men's side,” she said of the WNBA, her onetime employer as player and coach. “I can paint a picture of how they stack up, what makes a women's player worth watching in her own right.”

OK, I'll concede that. And not just because Suzie used to kick tail in local men's leagues.

But compare that short-term gain to the environments of, say, tennis and the Olympics. No one compares Venus Williams to Novak Djokovic. And no one in London will compare Coraopolis diver Cassidy Krug to Greg Louganis. The women in those worlds are simply the best at what they do.

That should be enough.

But if it isn't, hey, that WNBA article concluded that Catchings' PIE rating over the past decade was 16.63 to LeBron's 16.32.

So she's officially good.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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