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Sky's goal: Just win and the fans will show

The e-mail was sincere, apologetic for any "disrespect" it might unintentionally convey. But it - he - got right to the point.

Referencing the movie "A League Of Their Own," in which the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed between 1943-54, openly showcased its players' appeal by dressing them in skirts on the field, the e-mailer suggested the WNBA follow suit.

Not by putting its players in skirts but by taking a page, he suggested, from women's tennis and, ahem, revealing basketball players' bodies in a more flattering light.

There is no excuse for women to not be interested in the WNBA, but there are a myriad of (sic) reasons why men aren't. If the WNBA ever decided to showcase its product as was done in that movie, to draw the interest and dollars of men, their revenues would soar.

This is but one of the challenges the Chicago Sky faces as it heads into its second season with its home opener Tuesday night at the UIC Pavilion.

The way the Sky sees it, it's fairly simple. Win and they will come. Who "they" are is hard to tell, but the winning part is pretty clear-cut. At least more than five games, which was their total last season, but preferably somewhere in the upper teens, which would be .500 or better and usually good enough to make the playoffs in the WNBA.

But is that really all it's going to take?

"At one point in Houston, the attendance went down when we went through a spell where we didn't win," said free-agent acquisition and Chicago native Dominique Canty, who played for the Comets for four seasons. "But once you start winning, the attendance is going to come. It's going to be the same thing here."

The Sky is the youngest team in the league with eight of its 13 players having one year of WNBA experience or less. But first-year coach Bo Overton believes that with free-agent acquisitions like Canty and six-year veteran Kayte Christensen; second-year performer Monique Currie, who came available in the dispersal draft when Charlotte folded; and top draft pick Armintie Price from Mississippi, the team can take a considerable step up, despite its 12-point loss to New York in Sunday's season opener.

"When these fans see these players play," said Overton, who came from the University of Oklahoma, "and how much passion they have and the type of people they are, I think they will fall in love with them."

But again, is it enough?

What is so wrong with a woman showcasing her body when she competes? I'll tell you right now, men cannot compete with that. All they can do is watch, and pay for the privilege of doing so.

The e-mailer makes a point, and not a completely idiotic one at that. And, in fact, this season the WNBA has changed the style of its uniforms with an eye on marketability.

Sky President Margaret Stender said Adidas, which bought Reebok and designed the new uniforms with input from a panel of WNBA executives and players, is "more attuned to the female athlete's body."

"It's such a fine line with this stuff," Stender said. "But I happen to agree with (the e-mailer) that the first set of uniforms were horrid and the new uniforms a huge step forward."

In addition to its racer-back jersey and shorter, tuck-in shorts, players' names are now below the number so as not to be obscured by hair, the better to know who you're cheering for.

"Our stated objective was to have them more performance-driven and while doing that, could we make them more flattering to our athletes and celebrate the athlete more," Stender said. "If you look at the back of the uniform, the name and number are in a shield and is in the shape of a V, which is very flattering. And the way the pattern continues from the jersey to the shorts (in the Sky uniform) gives an elongated look, which makes everyone look taller and thinner."

Of course while Stender loves the uniforms, she is envious of the fact that NBA executives don't have to have these discussions.

"It puts a spotlight on the degree of difficulty in the marketability of women's sport that men don't have to contend with," she said. "Men just show up and play."

Even the dialogue a few years ago regarding how NBA players would be required to dress when traveling to games seemed to reflect on larger, more substantive issues. And Stender said it is hard to believe that even more flattering uniforms will make a difference at the gate.

"That's a way too narrow and simple view of what its all about," she said. "If we showcase the most positive aspects of the athletes on and off the court and continue to make the game one people like to watch performed at a high level, it's going to grow into something positive.

"If we put everyone into skin-tight lycra, is it going to make a difference? I don't think so. And the risk if you do is that you attract some and turn away others."

She meant the kids who look up to these players as role models, and the parents who bring them.The e-mailer is on his own.

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