The name Bill Laimbeer will undoubtedly bring about numerous reactions. The former Piston was a big part of the Detroit’s back to back NBA Championships from 1989-1990 that featured players like Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, and Isiah Thomas. He was known for his “aggressive playstyle” that made the Bad Boys so infamous. His fights with Charles Barkley and Larry Bird were probably the most memorable of his tenure. Bill’s reputation has actually been one of the biggest marketing ploys for the Las Vegas Aces and appropriately so. Mr. Laimbeer joined The Vegas Take January 15th, 2019 to talk about the CBA deal in the WNBA. The new deal ensures that the top players of the league can now make over $500,000. It also includes upgraded travel arrangements, gives players better access to mental health providers, improved maternity leave, among other important milestones.
Shapiro opened up the discussion:
“So Bill what was your reaction when you heard about this new CBA deal? What went through your mind?”
Bill Laimbeer said:
“Well I’m on the Board of Governors so I’ve been involved in understanding what is going on. Basically, at the end of the day, I’ve been in this business for a long time (15 years). This is a win win for everybody. It’s a win for the owners of the team who have been there for the long term success of this league. It’s a win for the players because they have a substantial increase not only in contractual money but also in other aspects like airline flights, hotels, and mental health awareness.”
The standards of the league needed to be raised. If the players are not being treated as first class athletes, then neither will its viewers. The glamor of playing professional sports is a massive part of the spectacle. Happy players are also going to be more invested in the league. Players complaints brought a litany of social media controversy from all sides of the spectrum. People who hate the league told them they shouldn’t be complaining about anything which in turn sparked an argument about women’s sports in general. It was a bad look for the league. That conversation will no longer take place.
“Do you see this as an investment for the NBA and looking ahead and saying in the end the WNBA is going to be making some money. Am I wrong in thinking that way?”
“Well the NBA only has a couple teams involved in us right now. A lot of independents. We are independent. The NBA does own half of the league though but overall burden of the cost falls upon individual team owners moving forward in many ways in this agreement here. They (the NBA) also have realized this is a growing sport, women’s professional basketball. Women’s sports in general.”
Any new business is a long term investment and this league is no different. The marketing for the WNBA is evolving with every season. During the Aces first season in Las Vegas, you could not get their jerseys until half way through the season. The next season, the new designs were available by the time the first game started. There is still a long way to go. The Aces, for example, don’t feature highlights on their Instagram page. Nor do they have any post game coverage of any kind. When Liz Cambage was traded to the Aces, the team didn’t even bother to change the posters to include her throughout the MGM where they play. These kinds of things have to be addressed throughout the league in order to grow the brand. That is the standard for any professional sport in the world now. The WNBA is also desperate for more personality. A big reason why the NBA has become so popular is because of these iconic rivalries and polarizing figures. A player such as Kevin Durant, both on and off the court, has been such a big part of the NBA narrative and that severely lacking from the WNBA. If they could get someone with a personality like Draymond Green, it would immediately increase the league’s value because of the social media buzz that surrounds it.
Shapiro talks financials:
“So, if somebody comes up to you coach and says, ‘Wait a second the WNBA, I thought they were losing $10-12 million dollars every year, how do you justify paying the players more money if the league isn’t making more money?’ What do you say to them?”
“Well that’s the investment part that you talked about a minute ago. You know, the NBA for giant numbers of years lost huge amounts of money and still does with many teams right now. They make it up on the franchise value over the course of years. We’re not there yet but that’s the plan to make franchises valuable. You lose some money in the short term as long as you have the pockets to handle it and make it up on the back side as your franchise value increases.”
The WNBA is only 23 years old. The 23rd season of the NBA was in 1968 and the league was just starting to grow. There were certainly a few all-time greats playing in the league such as Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robinson, and Elvin Hayes but the overall product was lacking depth. The bottom tier teams were void any kind of recognizable players and marketability. According to the Association for Professional Basketball Research, the Boston Celtics’ average home attendance was 8,948 people in 1968. One of the top teams in home attendance for the WNBA in 2019 was the Phoenix Mercury with an attendance of 10,193 people per game. The Phoenix Suns had an average attendance of 15,293 people in 2018 for additional perspective. The bottom tier attendance of the league belongs to the New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream with average attendances of 2,823 and 4,194 respectively. I believe those two franchises should be cut from the league and their players dispersed amongst the other teams. That would take away two teams who are losing a lot of money for the WNBA and make the overall product for the rest of the league even better. Players like Kia Nurse, Asia Durr, and Tina Charles would be great additions to any other team.
Shapiro talks about a common debate:
“Do you think there is a division 1 men’s team out there, maybe a bad D-1 team, that could lose to a WNBA team?
Bill Laimbeer responded:
Yes. The women are very talented. You know, I started players who were 6’9” and 6’9” in my front court. I have shooters. The physicality is the one thing that would limit our ability to compete but from a pure basketball perspective there is no question. The women, especially professional women, are outstanding and go about their business and execution.”
JD brought up an important point:
“I think that one thing Bryan is not thinking about is the depth. I said Wyoming, for example, who are in the Mountain West. I said the Aces would absolutely beat Wyoming right now because you have depth and Wyoming doesn’t. You play better basketball. More ball movement in my opinion.”
I think we all have a higher standard for men’s division 1 basketball because of national television. It is easy to understand that teams like Duke, Villanova, and Kentucky who we often see on TV would destroy any WNBA team. They feature the top prospects in the country who are likely to play professional sports on some level. What we don’t see very often are worst teams in this division. No one is watching Wyoming or Holy Cross. The Aces have a unique chance against Division 1 because they have a center of NBA size in Liz Cambage. They also have Plum and McBride who can shoot over 40% from three. The physicality of the game would definitely be an issue but a fast paced, shooting based game that we often see would be a massive advantage for Las Vegas if they could dictate the flow of the game that way.