By Mercedes Townsend
As we neared the end of 2015, former NBA point guard Gilbert Arenas took to Instagram to offer business advice to the WNBA. On December 16, the self-proclaimed “Agent Zero” posted a video of two scantily clad women playing basketball in sports bras and thongs, and suggested that the women of the WNBA take a page out of this particular playbook, offering:
“NOW this is what america was hoping for when they announced the #WNBA back in 1996…not a bunch of chicks running around looking like, cast members from #orangeisthenewblack…don’t get me wrong, they have few #cutiepies but theres a whole allotta #beanpies running around hahahahahaha if #skylardiggins came out like this, I dont care if she misses every layup..imma buy season tickets and I don’t even know where the f_ck #tulsa is hahahaha #2016newwnbaoutfitPLS and if u think this is sexist, 9 times out of 10 u ugly and we didn’t pay to come see u play anyway #donkeykong…smdh #thiswillbeawesome #soldouteverywhere” 
As one could expect, Arenas was served some swift social media justice, with responses via Twitter and Instagram from former and current players including the New York Liberty’s Swin Cash, the Los Angeles Sparks’s Candace Parker, the Washington Mystics’s Stefanie Dolson, and the 2015 League MVP Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky, all denouncing Arenas’s post for its sexist message. League spokesperson Mike Bass also released a joint statement on behalf of the WNBA and NBA, calling the post “repugnant, utterly disrespectful, and flat out wrong.”
Unapologetic, Arenas double downed on his argument and took back to Instagram, posting:
“Ppl act like I said some sh_t thats just down right sexist and rude…..str8 men are attracted to women RIGHT? Men are 80 percent of sportviewers RIGHT? So lets name a few women sports,that still attract the men viewers…#Tennis,omg they were short skirts like female..#trackandfield,short tights and crop tops,so we can see abs “we get a_s prints and stomachs,in that sport YAY”#volleyball,short tights and booties hanging out the back off their shorts “F_CK wheres my beer”#beachvollyball,f_ckn swimsuits,jumping up and down WOW..#arenafootball theres nothing attractive about a women playing#FOOTBALL until they came out with the gear (no they didnt)”girls running each other over with 90 percent of their clothes removed..whos the mastermind behind this#sexist sport he or she needs a f_cking statue..#UFCthe manliest sport by far but they seem to attract men viewers by the million OMG it must be the tights and the crop tops and just maybeeeee a fighter gets hit so hard her sports bra falls off hahaha….ALL ABOVE SPORTS seems to understand the concept…..#Basketball has the lowest views by men BECUZ their mimicking MEN #Basketballchicks has some of the best bodies in women sports#Lesbians or #str8 we can give two sh_ts about what they prefer in the bedroom becuz men prefer #a_sandtitties and last time I checked theres 20 total titties and 10 a_ses running around but for some odd reason were not getting it..what were getting is #tats #dreads #highsocks#baggyshorts#elbowpads..sounds like MEN attire to me..this sport will continue to be less viewed and under paid compared to other female sports#presidentLAURELRICHIE theres a reason 7 out of the top 10 highest paid women athletes come from tennis #Skirts and#a_s…..if the #NBA got rid of the thug imagine for global viewing SHOULDNT you?? I dont care if u dont like the truth becuz MEN DON’T WANNA WATCH WOMEN ACT LIKE MEN..if they came out with an all #gay man sport..I bet they will wear less clothes then the #WNBA and thats a #FACT lol NOW GIVE US WHAT WE WANT and unveil them bodies…SEXINESS RUNS THIS WORLD…if ur selling sex,MEN are buying…ive never seen a man hooker trying to pick up women on the corner”
The problems with Arenas’s posts are seemingly endless, ranging from the misuse of commas, abhorrent overuse of hashtags, obnoxiously excessive “hahas,” and, of course, the blatant misogyny, underlying homophobia, and sexism—just to name a few. Moreover, Arenas’s business plan has already been proven to be a surefire bust, as the history of professional women’s basketball in the United States proves that a uniform that “unveil[s] them bodies” does not, in fact, lead to the league being “#soldouteverywhere.” The WNBA is preceded by four attempted professional women’s basketball leagues in the United States: the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL), the Liberty Basketball Association (LBA), the Women’s American Basketball Association (WBA), and the American Basketball League (ABL). Of particular interest is the LBA.
After the WBL disbanded in 1981, there was no professional women’s basketball league in the United States for ten years. Former Continental Basketball Association commissioner, Jim Drucker, and co-founder of the Arena Football League, Doug Verb, hoped to change that when they launched the LBA in 1991. Through its six teams―Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and a national team, the LBA All-Stars―the LBA hoped to redefine the play and promotion of women’s basketball. In an attempt to combine skill and sex appeal, the LBA’s regulations provided for shorter courts, lowered rims, free throw lines closer to the basket, and, most infamously, one piece, lycra unitards for its players. Deviating from national intercollegiate and amateur regulations and from the standard uniform of looser fitting jerseys and shorts, the LBA hoped to showcase its players’ physiques, while making the game appear faster and more exciting, with more frequent opportunities for baskets and dunking.
While not quite as revealing as Arenas would like, the LBA’s uniforms were designed bearing in mind a sentiment expressed in Arenas’s posts, “Sexiness runs this world.” Hoping to attract more male fans, the league commissioned Danskin, a women’s active wear company, to design a uniform that would accentuate players’ curves while still allowing them to run across the court. As the league’s Executive Director, Verb offered that the players the league recruited were certainly talented, but “were lacking a certain excitement level to bring to the average sports fan.” Unfortunately for the LBA, this “certain excitement level” that they thought tighter, body-hugging uniforms afforded did not incentivize fans to run out to buy season tickets, as Arenas suggests. Instead, with 10,573 fans in attendance, the LBA played its first and only game at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Michigan on February 18, 1991.
Contrary to Arenas’s beliefs, when NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the creation of a professional women’s league in 1996, “this”—tight-fitting or revealing uniforms—isn’t what “America was hoping for.” They were hoping to relive the excitement of the U.S. Women’s Basketball team’s Olympic win. The team’s gold medal win at that year’s Summer Olympics in Atlanta marked a turning point for women’s basketball in the United States. For the first time in sports history, women’s basketball was supported by multi-million dollar sponsors, with landmark endorsement deals with Reebok, Nike, and Gatorade, and the team’s gold medal game against Brazil was played in front of 77,000 fans, an attendance record for any women’s sport in the United States at the time. This is what America was hoping for, not some salacious fantasy dreamed up by a former point guard with too much time on his hands.
Despite the considerable issues with Arenas’s advice, it still deserves serious consideration. No, the WNBA absolutely should not take Arenas’s comments into consideration when strategizing for the new fiscal year or heading into collective bargaining negotiations, but his comments and their implications do warrant critical attention. Aside from Katie Barnes’s article for espnW, “Why Gilbert Arenas’ Comments Matter,” the posts have been written off as just another episode in Arena’s post-NBA saga, which began with him drawing a gun on former teammate Javaris Crittenton in the Washington Wizards locker room in December 2010, and has since included posting a video of him smashing his Mercedes with a cinder block after a fight with his former girlfriend in June 2015, and, more recently, releasing a video of his eight year old son riding the hood of a moving vehicle on December 29, 2015. Nina Mandell of USA Today’s For the Win writes that most would consider Arenas “irrelevant” and, therefore, “isn’t worth the energy” of a response, and Tyler Conway of Bleacher Report argues, “Obviously, anyone with a pulse and a shred of human decency sides with Delle Donne, the WNBA, NBA and any other woman—or person for that matter—who was offended by Arenas’ comments.” But the 20,000 people who signified their agreement with Arenas through a “like” on his post suggest otherwise, and Arenas’s relevancy or dicey past can’t divert our attention away from seriously addressing the issues that women athletes face. The deeply problematic nature of Arenas’s comments isn’t “obvious” to everyone, and while the WNBA and its players did see widespread support via social media and new outlets in the wake of Arenas’s post, the media attention was short-lived. This, in turn, only continues the detrimental media cycle that embraces, then quickly becomes ambivalent towards the experiences of women athletes, minimizing their concerns to no more than a footnote in sports history—much like the Liberty Basketball Association.
Mercedes Townsend is Master’s candidate in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research primarily focuses on the interplay between gender and sports marketing and economics. Her thesis is an interdisciplinary investigation of the causes of pay inequity in professional sports, in particular basketball. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The Instagram account that Arenas posted the comments, @gilbertpettyarenas, has since been made unavailable.
Arenas’s Instagram @gilbertpettyarenas
 Scripps Howard News Service, “New League Streamlined for Success,” 22 Feb. 1991
 Nina Mandell, “Gilbert Arenas said some terrible things about the WNBA,” 16 Decmber 2015.
 Tyler Conway, “WNBA, NBA Respond to Gilbert Arenas’ Comments on Female Basketball Players,” 16 December, 2015, <http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2599878-wnba-nba-respond-to-gilbert-arenas-comments-on-female-basketball-players>