I’m a tall woman at 6-foot-2, and almost everywhere I go, people notice me. The first question is: Do you play basketball? When they find out I’m a professional player, some are just impressed and want to know more about the life of a pro athlete. Most of the men I talk to, though, ask me to play one-on-one.
If you’ve ever had that impulse, let me stop you here. I’m not going to play you one-on-one. I’m never going to play you one-on-one. I have been playing basketball my entire life, and for just as long I have been challenged by men who think they are better than me. I had to prove my skill in middle school against the boys who thought girls couldn’t play basketball. I had to prove my skill in high school when the guys’ egos were hurt because the girls basketball team was more successful and more popular than theirs. I had to prove it in college when grown men started challenging me to one-on-one games because there was no way this college woman was better than they were. Time and time again, I have trounced men — far too many to count. Now I have nothing to prove.
.. I get it: Sometimes men are just flirting. But it’s easy to tell when someone is serious. Flirtation can be subtle and playful: “When are you gonna let me play you one-on-one?” Men with insecurities sound more braggartly: “I bet I would smoke you on the court.”
.. There’s something about basketball that activates men’s egos. It’s almost as if they still consider it a sport that women should not be playing.
.. I’ve never heard of a person saying they’re a real estate agent, only to have someone snap back, “I bet I would sell more houses than you.” But I guarantee that every single woman who has played high-level basketball has been told by multiple men that she’d lose to them on the court.
.. I am a competitor, and when I was younger, I lived for those challenges. Whenever a man called me out, I took it upon myself to embarrass him if a court was available (preferably with a crowd present). Throughout high school, college and even very early in my pro years, I handed out losses to countless overconfident men.
.. But the same story played out each time. It went a lot like the scene in the film “Love and Basketball” when Quincy meets Monica, tells her “Girls can’t play no ball” and proceeds to play her two-on-two with his friends. As he’s about to lose, he pushes her, and she falls into a sprinkler, cutting her face. Similarly, when the men I played realized they’d underestimated me, the hacking would start. They would elbow, undercut and even throw me into the pads under the basket — passing out real bruises to match their bruised egos. There was no way they were letting this woman beat them in front of their friends. I took the hits, made my shots, and walked away battered but victorious.
.. But I’ve also had nine surgeries, seven on my knees and one on each hip. I have my livelihood to look after. This isn’t just a game for me anymore; it’s my career.
.. Why risk what I do for a living to prove myself to a rough-and-tumble nobody, the kind of guy who has probably never played real basketball? Inevitably, those are the guys who challenge me. Collegiate and professional male basketball players have too much respect for us to be jerks; they understand the game at the highest level and know that we’re extremely talented and that what we do is remarkable. Instead, it’s always the men with the broken hoop dreams who didn’t have the grades or the talent to play in college.
The men who “dominate” in their 25-and-up rec league at the gym. The ones who know absolutely nothing about playing basketball at this level but are still strong enough to rough me up when things go south.
.. I already know I’m a good player. And no, I won’t play you to prove it.