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How I Learned to Love Women’s Basketball

Photo credit: Brian Ray / Hawkeyesports.com

This essay aired on Tri States Public Radio on March 13. Listen here.

I’ve never been a fan of basketball. I don’t like the screech of tennis shoes on the wood floor and the cacophony of whistles and buzzers echoing in the arena.

My disdain for basketball has remained fully intact my entire life until this past Saturday when I watched the University of Iowa women play Michigan in the Big 10 semi-final.

I was at a friend’s house and she wanted to see the game, and because I love my friend and would do anything to spend time with her, I dutifully parked myself on her couch—and proceeded to have my mind blown.

These young women! Wow! I was in awe.

My amazement was not reserved only for Iowa’s superstar Caitlin Clark, though she is an excellent role model for her grace and generosity, sharing credit for her success the same way she shares the ball. She beat the men’s NCAA record for points scored, yet she’s so generous she also holds a record in the most assists, helping her teammates to score. For these uber-impressive female athletes, it doesn’t matter who makes the basket, they are in it together—something you don’t see often enough in today’s me-me-me society.

As they ran, dodged, passed, and pivoted, their tight bond and trust was evident. If someone fell, there was always a hand helping them up, whether the fallen was one of their own players or on the opposing team. What I saw was discipline, strength, poise, resilience, cooperation, and forgiveness—all traits we need more of in the world.

Speaking of which, one of the biggest problems in politics these days is that we treat it like a team sport. One side wants to win at any cost, even if it means destroying democracy. It’s gotten so bad that instead of congratulating the winning team somelosers incite insurrections. Talk about bad sportsmanship.

When Iowa won, the team didn’t gloat over its victory and, equally notable, the Michigan women were polite about the loss. In fact, throughout the game I didn’t see any of the bad behavior we see in Washington DC; there was no anger, no name calling, no power mongering, no obstruction of justice.

I loved watching the basketball game—believe me, no one is as surprised by this as me—so much so that I watched the Big 10 final the next day, going out of my way to drive to a local bar since we don’t have television in our house. It was an even more exciting matchup of two outstanding teams, Iowa and Nebraska, that went into overtime. These women, so confident and self-assured, were also fast, running up and down the full court for two hours, and shooting three-point baskets from well over 25 feet! Talk about girl power!

Fans cheered and waved signs in the arena. One of them, a shout-out to Iowa’s coach, read “Lisa Bluder for President” and it made me think, yes, she is what our country needs. A leader who is focused on strategy and success, but remains cool under pressure. Someone who shows composure, good manners, and kindness, even when falling behind in the score. Someone who knows how to get people to work together, a solid teambuilder. And above all, a woman.

Bluder obviously won’t be running for president, but in the future, should Caitlin Clark or any of her Hawkeye teammates run for office, I would support them. Because even at their young ages, they display the maturity, problem-solving skills, and unity that could keep our democracy intact.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to the women’s March Madness NCAA tournament next week. Because what made me finally appreciate basketball, screeching shoes and all, was the pure feminine energy.

To quote the late Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.”

If I am a fan of anything, it’s seeing women doing things for the good of the world, like these young basketball players setting a noble example.