Book Spotlight: How Basketball Can Save The World

David Hollander’s new book explores women’s basketball’s role in the quest to make sport more equitable.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

 Published with permission of Harmony Books

“What if like Naismith (the inventor of basketball) we look at gender inclusion afresh? What if we create a game or system that redefines the values of gender in the system? What if the system were gender inclusive, like basketball was from the beginning?”

These are just some of the questions that David Hollander explores in his upcoming book How Basketball Can Save the World

It’s remarkable how much inequality still persists in basketball today. According to an article by Basketnews, last season in the WNBA, the highest amount teams could spend in the salary cap was $1.34 million. In contrast, the amount determined for the 2022-23 season in the NBA is $156.98 million. On an individual basis, the maximum contract that teams can pay their players in the WNBA is $221,450, while in the NBA this amount is about $50 million. In addition to the disparity in salaries, women’s basketball faces the additional challenge of being undervalued and underpromoted by broadcasters and social media platforms. 

How did this happen? As Hollander points out in his book, basketball is the only competitive sport that included women at its origin. When a group of women approached James Naismith about playing basketball a week after he invented the game, his response was, “I see no reason why they should not.” 

Nearly 80 years later, the world seems to have forgotten Naismith’s approach to basketball. In 2021, a report released by a law firm hired by the NCAA to investigate gender disparities among the governing body’s championship events found that the NCAA “prioritizes men’s basketball, contributing to gender inequity,” and that internal support systems and television contracts contribute to the NCAA “significantly undervaluing women’s basketball as an asset.” At the professional level, many athletes still have to head overseas to play basketball because there are not enough opportunities for them in the United States.

“If only the world had followed the principle of gender inclusion, fundamental to basketball from the beginning.”

Still, there is hope. The 13th chapter of Hollander’s book is a reminder of this. “The spirit of basketball as a vehicle for gender inclusion lives on, unvanquished. Stubbornly, the game moves the world forward toward long-overdue gender inclusion by producing people who demonstrate that principle through their powerful examples.”

Trailblazers like Becky Hammon, Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie, and Candace Parker are living examples of this. In fact, it is fair to say that the entirety of the WNBA helps move the world toward gender inclusion. WNBA players are at the forefront of social justice initiatives, spend thousands of hours volunteering with community organizations, go out of their way to interact with young fans, and continuously find ways to advocate for equality in sport. In the face of tremendous adversity, the WNBA has inspired change at all levels of society and has proven that sports leagues can embrace people of all identities.

Perhaps Hollander is on to something when he says that basketball can save the world. 

Looking to try a new sports book? You can order a copy of How Basketball Can Save the World on February 7. As Nneka Ogwumike of the LA Sparks said, “If we are going to think and act in new ways about inclusion,  gender and equity, then we need new ideas and new language.  Professor Hollander shows us how basketball is that new way and that new language.”

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