A Brief History of Women’s Basketball in the US – Keep Pushing It Ladies!

In honor of International Women’s Day and my team’s end of season meeting last night, I thought I would take this opportunity to honor some of the trailblazers in women’s basketball and look how far we have truly come in a relatively short period of time.

The game of basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, however it wasn’t until Sendra Berenson introduced the game at Smith College in 1892 and adapted the rules of course, that women were permitted to play.  The rules of play were much different for women and involved no physical contact or perspiration for that matter.  In fact, there was no dribbling, touching the ball was a foul, double-teaming a shooter was a foul, and players pretty well had to stay on their own side of the court.  Oh and did I mention there was no coaching from sidelines!!

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As time passed the rules evolved but not as quickly as one might imagine.  The bounce pass was not legalized for women until 1918 and a continuous, unlimited dribble was not an official rule for women’s basketball until 1966!!  It amazes me to consider the level of play of women’s basketball today considering we were late bloomers in the game.  Finally, in 1971 the women’s game came into modern times.  The rules changed to allow a five player, full court game with a 30 second shot clock.  That same year the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was formed, giving women the opportunity to compete for collegiate national championships.  The following year the “Mighty Macs” of Immaculata College won the first women’s collegiate national championship!

Young women from across the county represented the United States in its Olympic debut in 1976 and earned their first Gold Medal in Women’s Basketball in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, led by Southern California’s Cheryl Miller (yes, that’s Reggie’s big sister, long before he ever dreamed of an NBA career).  That team also featured Teresa Edwards, Kim Mulkey, Pamela McGhee, Anne Donnovan, Lynette Woodard and was coached by the infamous Pat Summit.

As they proceeded into the 1990s women’s basketball came to the national forefront.  The 3-point shot was permitted in 1986 and the women quickly worked to perfect the trifecta.  Teams such as Pat Summit’s Lady Vols of The University of Tennessee, Stanford and the University of Connecticut Huskies shaped modern women’s basketball and took it far beyond a trivialized sport for “lesser” athletes.  They brought national media attention and for the first time, little girls in gyms all across the country had those powerful sport role models we had been anxiously waiting for.  I actually remember the first time I watched a women’s basketball game on the television.  I was maybe 10 years old or so and happened upon it on a Saturday afternoon; I ran through the house to tell my mom.  I was playing basketball for our county little league but never imagined watching girls play on TV ! I have been a proud Lady Vol fan since that moment! It was the moment that young girls like me developed aspirations of playing on the big stage, beyond recreational leagues and high school.  We signed up for camps and practiced our dribbling in the backyard and a love for the game grew in our hearts..

  The late 1990s brought forth super-stars in the game such as Rebecca Lobo (a former UCONN Husky) and Lisa Leslie (the first woman to dunk in a professional league) who both played in the inaugural season of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).  It honored Sheryl Swoopes who was the first woman to sponsor a basketball shoe (I still remember them, I wanted a pair terribly). This year marked the 20th anniversary of the WNBA and its still going strong!

Modern times for women’s basketball is proving to be more successful than ever.  In 2009 Pat Summit became the first NCAA Division 1 coach, men’s or women’s to reach 1,000 wins in a career, an honor now shared by Tara VanDerveer just this year, as the only other women’s coach to reach this milestone.  In 2016 Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut surpassed John Wooden with 11 national championships, more than any other college coach in history (and he is likely going to break that record this year with his power-house team of athletes). Finally, this season Kelsey Plum made NCAA women’s basketball history by scoring an outstanding 57 points in a single game to make her the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Women’s Basketball history!!

So, keep working ladies; keep pushing those boundaries and developing the game far beyond what was once contemplated!  If you are interested in the full history of women’s basketball check out the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee! (Another reason to love being in Knoxville!)

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