Stephen Curry, left, and Sabrina Ionescu will battle head-to-head in...

Stephen Curry, left, and Sabrina Ionescu will battle head-to-head in a three-point shooting challenge at NBA All-Star weekend.


Yes, it’s contrived. Yes, I have mixed feelings about women athletes constantly being asked to measure themselves against men. And yes, I think the Stephen Curry vs. Sabrina Ionescu three-point contest is great for basketball and great for women’s sports.

For those who haven’t been paying close attention, the newest addition to the NBA All-Star Saturday night is a “Stephen vs. Sabrina” three-point challenge that will follow the league’s regular three-point shooting competition.

The NBA marketing people have had some bad ideas before — who remembers that short-lived H-O-R-S-E competition that ended in 2010? This, however, is not one of them.

Anything that brings more attention to the women’s game — whether it be Caitlin Clark breaking the NCAA women’s career scoring record or something decidedly less organic, such as this Saturday night event — is good because it gets people talking.

This is something Billie Jean King found out long ago when she agreed to play Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes. While Stephen vs. Sabrina is not a spectacle on that level, it is an important event in that it can attract new fans to the women’s game.

In one corner, representing young girls everywhere, is the Liberty’s Ionescu, who last year set a WNBA single-season record for threes with 128. In the other is the Golden State star, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers and a future Hall of Famer.

The interesting thing is that it was the players themselves who came up with the idea. Ionescu and Curry are friends and share a Bay Area connection. Seven months ago, when Ionescu won the WNBA All-Star three-point contest with a record 37-point final round that included making 25 of 27 three-pointers — including 20 in a row — Curry took note.

He posted “Ridiculous” on social media. Ionescu responded, “Shoot out?”

Thumbs up to the NBA for listening. And thumbs up to other NBA players getting in on the act, using their social media to predict who will win the event.

Like King, Ionescu knows there’s something more than a simple basketball competition at stake here. It’s one reason why she told organizers that she doesn’t want to shoot from the women’s three-point line of 22 feet, 1.75 inches and instead will use the NBA line of 23 feet, nine inches.

“I shoot from that range to begin with,” Ionescu said on a Zoom call with reporters earlier this week. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to kind of pick what line I wanted to shoot from, it was a no-brainer. Continue to prove that we’re capable and willing. Wanted to continue to equal the playing field and doing so on the biggest stage.”

Women’s basketball has never been bigger. Clark’s Iowa team drew a record 1.8 million viewers on Super Bowl Sunday as she approached the NCAA scoring record that she ultimately broke on Thursday, and the WNBA Finals last season was the most watched in 20 years. One can only imagine that the league’s profile will continue to rise when Clark turns pro.

While women continue to make a fraction of what the men make, growing interest in the sport is the one sure thing that has the potential to change that. Ionescu knows the women’s game is a great product and wants to do whatever she can to get it the respect it deserves.

And that’s why she’s doing what she’s doing.

When asked about the King-Riggs match, Ionescu said, “There’s many similarities, I would say, to what it stands for. There’s an opportunity to raise awareness. There’s many people who don’t give the respect to women’s sports and to women in general that is deserved. You can go out there and shut a lot of people up. But also thank a lot of people that are continuing to push for what’s right.”

And maybe the push will continue as this becomes a regular event. Perhaps next year, it will be Caitlin Clark vs. Luka Doncic. I’d certainly rather watch that than another H-O-R-S-E contest.

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