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Can Women Play in the NBA?

Can Women Play in the NBA?

Can Women Play in the NBA?

While the NBA is often seen as a men’s league, and historically has been played as such, the question of whether or not a woman can play in the NBA is one that is asked repeatedly and often.  In this article, we are going to review whether or not a woman can play in the NBA and why an NBA team may, or may not, choose to draft a female basketball player.

In addition, we are going to take a look at some of the best women basketball players to play the game of basketball and fully determine whether or not they would have had an opportunity to play in the NBA. And lastly, we will be discussing just why no NBA team has recruited a female player and whether or not that is likely to change in the near future.

Quick Answer

While, historically, the NBA has been seen as a men’s basketball league, the creation of the WNBA, or Women’s National Basketball Association, was created to offer female basketball players an opportunity to compete at the highest levels.

However, simply basing the question as to whether or not a woman can play in the NBA based off of the current NBA rules and regulations, there is, in fact, no rule stating that players in the NBA must be of the male gender.  In fact, based on the current rulebook and guidelines within the NBA, a player’s gender and gender identity is neither mentioned nor required to be male.

This means, that theoretically, a woman can be drafted and can play in the NBA.  And while few instances of this occurring have happened, it is not beyond the realm of possibility and is, in fact, a likely scenario if a female player of the proper caliber, strength, and basketball IQ comes along.

Has a Woman Ever Been Drafted to the NBA?

Contrary to popular belief, yes, two women have been drafted to the NBA.  The first was Denise Long, who was drafted by the Warriors in 1969.  However, other NBA franchise teams voided the pick and Denise Long, technically, was never a part of the team.

The second woman to be drafted by an NBA team was Lusia Harris.  With the 137th pick in the 1977 draft, the New Orleans Jazz drafted Harris.  Standing at 6’3”, Harris had played college basketball at Delta State in Cleveland, Mississippi.  Leading her team to 3 NCAA titles, she finished her college career as one of the winningest college players in history and was considered one of the best female players in the country.

When Lusia Harris was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz, she initially thought it was a joke.  Reportedly, her first comment was, “Drafted by a men’s team?”

However, while Harris was an outstanding player, the New Orleans Jazz likely drafted her for the publicity.  In their time in New Orleans, the Jazz had rarely made the playoffs and many of their first-round draft picks rarely played a full season due to injury and other extraneous factors.

Furthermore, although Harris was technically drafted by the New Orleans Jazz, she refused to try out for the team.  It would later become known that she was pregnant and thus would be unable to attend the Jazz’s training camp.  And although Harris would never play for the Jazz, she would play for the Houston Angels of the women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) for one season.

Why Aren’t More Women Drafted to the NBA?

Although both Denise Long and Lusia Harris were drafted by two separate NBA teams, no other female basketball player has been drafted to the NBA since.  But why exactly aren’t more women drafted to the NBA?  And while the answer may appear straightforward, there are a few additional reasons why.

  • Height – perhaps the most important reason as to why more women aren’t drafted to the NBA is simply due to height.  The average height of an NBA player is 6’4.7”, standing nearly 7-inches taller than the average WNBA player.  And in the NBA, a league with many players standing in at 7-feet or more, height matters.
  • Weight – similarly, many female basketball players simply lack the proper weight to compete in the NBA.  On average, NBA players weigh in at 217-pounds, with much of that weight being stored as muscle.  Alternatively, WNBA players typically weigh around 168-pounds, a difference of nearly 49-pounds.  And when rebounding a loose basketball or fighting for weak-side positioning, added weight can help a player secure better access to the ball.  
  • Strength – in addition to the above, men, on average, have more strength than their female counterparts.  And in the NBA, and the game of basketball, strength plays a large role on both the offensive and defensive end.  And while many female players have great basketball IQ, the simple lack of proper strength, as compared to their male counterparts, makes them a vulnerability on the court.
  • Dunking Ability –  similarly, dunking in the NBA is an integral part of the game.  And while many female players have been able to dunk, the vast majority are simply unable to do so.  This lack of ability and reduced vertical ability can be detrimental to an NBA team.
  • Basketball Abilities – and lastly, men typically play basketball at a higher level than their female counterparts.  We’ve previously discussed this in our review of why male basketball teams are better than female ones and the reason, quite simply, comes down to physiology and muscle mass.  As men, typically, have more muscle mass than women, they are able to run faster, jump higher, and shoot further than their female counterparts.

Could a Female Player be Drafted to the NBA?

Interestingly, both the late Kobe Bryant and Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks have indicated that they believe a handful of female players could play in the NBA.  Speaking to CNN back in January of 2020, Kobe Bryant claimed that three women, in particular, could play in the current league.

“There’s a lot of players with a lot of skill that could do it.  Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Elena Della Donne. There’s a lot of great players out there so they could certainly keep up with them.” 

Similarly, Mark Cuban made waves in 2013 when he said he would be willing to give Baylor women’s star Brittney Griner an opportunity to prove she could play in the NBA.  And although the opportunity was never presented, the fact that an owner of an NBA team showed some interest bodes well for future female players looking to join the NBA.