Important reminder: There was women’s basketball before the WNBA, and certain players helped elevate the game throughout that period. The W helped take the sport to a whole new level, and for that we are all grateful and excited to see what comes next. But women were hooping path before David Stern and his gang got involved.
As authors Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackelford detail in their 2005 book, Breaking the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women’s Basketball, women have been playing the sport since 1892. If we at WSLAM are allowed to use this platform to encourage further research on this topic, we have it for you. Read the aforementioned book and visit the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee. Completing these “missions” will give you an idea of the breadth of the sport’s reach and how many memorable players have influenced
the history of the game.
For now, we really wanted to focus on five players from the pre-W era that every women’s basketball fan should know. Some of the players we considered – that we may be able to cover in the future or that you can just look up – include Molly Bolin, Joan Crawford, Denise Curry, Anne Donovan, Hortencia Marcari, Pearl Moore, Uljana Semjonova, Theresa Shank -Grentz and Oua Washington. There were also people who, whether you consider them pre-W or not, acted in the W era, like Nancy Lieberman, Katrina McClain, and Lynette Woodard.
In the meantime, consider this a Cliff Notes all sorts. This is an all-WSLAM, pre-WNBA team that would have lost exactly zero games and is made up of players who we promise would have been in the SLAM/WSLAM editions had we existed at the time. era.
Every fan of the sport should know every person listed, every member of the inaugural class of inductees to the aforementioned Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. The class is ongoing.
Cheryl Miller: The GOAT
It’s not sacrilege to say that women’s basketball wasn’t an integral part of the zeitgeist when many of SLAM’s old-school employees — or the magazine itself — were growing up. But Cheryl Miller? She seemed to float above the sexism and noise to simply be known as a baller. A 6-2 small forward capable of scoring from anywhere on the court, Miller was a four-time All-Star Parade All-American during a scandalous high school career in Riverside, California, that saw her score 105 points in one game her senior year. Miller essentially repeated her high school exploits at the college level, staying close to home to play at USC where she again received All-American honors all four years. She led the Trojans to national championships in 1983 and 1984 and posted career numbers that bordered on the absurd.
Over a four-year, 128-game college career, Miller averaged 23.6 points, 12 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.6 steals and 2.5 blocks per game. There was nothing she couldn’t do on the court, and she did it all with a flair and grace that transcended the sport. In the summer of 1984, Miller was the star of the U.S. Olympic team that won gold at home in Los Angeles. She injured her knee shortly after college, otherwise she surely would have succeeded as a professional with a combination of men’s teams. women’s outfits from overseas or hung on until 97 and playing the early years of the W like some of his contemporaries. And yes, his brother is Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, an all-time great in his own right. But make no mistake: Cheryl was the much better player.
Carol Blazejowski The Fire
A 5-10 shooter with the perfect nickname for a quick scorer, Blazejowski was a late-inning baseball player from New Jersey who didn’t take the game seriously until she was a senior at Cranford High School. The Blaze moved just up the Parkway to attend college, becoming a three-time All-American at Montclair State from 1976 to 1978. Playing before there was a three-point line, Blazejowski nonetheless scored the a country’s best scoring score of 33.5 points per game in 1976-77 (including a Madison Square Garden record 52 points in a March victory over Queens College) and 38.6 points per game in 1977 -78 (including a top 40 in his last three college competitions.)
Her hoops options after college were AAU and international play, and she excelled in the latter, winning gold at the 1979 World University Games and the FIBA World Championships, where she led the team American in terms of score. She would have been a star on the 1980 Olympic team, but the United States boycotted that summer’s Games in Moscow. Blazejowski signed a three-year, $150,000 contract with the New Jersey Gems of the short-lived WBL, but the league did not last. Fittingly for a woman who ignited MSG with her performance as a college player, Blaze returned to the Garden as vice president and general manager of the Liberty in 1997 and worked for the W’s flagship franchise until 2010 .
Lusia Harris-Stewart as The Queen
A product of the Deep South, Harris was one of 11 children born to sharecropper Willie Harris. All played hoops, but the 6-3 Lusia had a special gift. A classic scorer and rebounder, Harris attended (barely) Delta State University where she played for legendary coach Margaret Wade (whose name appears on the annual Wade Trophy, awarded to the best female collegiate player ). Harris helped establish Delta State as the preeminent power in the AIAW, which was the largest platform for women’s college sports in the 1970s. The only black player on her team, Harris led Delta State to the AIAW championships in 1975, 1976 and 1977 and finished his college career with per-game averages of 25.9 points and 14.4 rebounds. She was also the top scorer for Team USA at the 1976 Olympics.
Harris gained some notoriety when the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz selected her in the seventh round of the draft, but she declined the opportunity to participate in a tryout and was largely out of the sports spotlight by the suite, living a quiet life as a married mother in Mississippi. . Lusia’s story received much-deserved attention with the release of the 2021 documentary, The queen of basketball. Directed by Ben Proudfoot with Stephen Curry and Shaquille O’Neal as executive producers, the film won the 2022 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) just months after Harris-Stewart’s death at the age of 66. the film is a must-see for readers of this issue.
Ann Meyers Drysdale: The Athlete
Born into a sports-loving Southern California family, Meyers’ high school career from ages 5 to 9 is legendary in itself: She lettered in seven different sports and won 13 (!) different MVP awards . Meyers then attended UCLA from 1974 to 1978, where she became the first woman to receive a four-year athletic scholarship. UCLA got plenty of bang for its buck, as Meyers was a star throughout his time in Westwood. She was a four-time All-American and concluded her college career by leading the Bruins to the ’78 AIAW championship. Meyers also reached the podium for Team USA several times in the late ’70s. After college, she became the WBL’s first-ever selection and was co-MVP of the fledgling league in 1979 -80. Shortly after, she signed a contract with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and had a real tryout with them.
After her playing career ended, she embarked on a groundbreaking, long and extremely successful career as a broadcaster for teams like the Pacers, Phoenix Suns, WNBA and Olympics. As for the Drysdale part of his last name? This happened when she married former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale in 1986. When Meyers was elected to the Hoop Hall in 1993, they became the first married couple to have both parties in their respective Hall of Fame.
Nera White: the pioneer
The pre-WNBA can still feel like a quasi-modern story when the players in question can still be seen on television and in sports. But women’s soccer has people who built it before college hoops was even a realistic option. The greatest of the game’s true building blocks from a gaming perspective has to be Nera White. A Tennessee native who played primarily for the Nashville Business College AAU team, the 6-1 White was an AAU All-American 15 years in a row (1955-69) and won the AAU tournament MVP award 10 times. As the Basketball Hall of Fame says in its biography, White was “simply quicker, quicker and stronger than most women of that generation.”
Women’s basketball wasn’t an Olympic sport until 1976, but the FIBA Women’s World Championship has been around since 1953. White made her mark at that tournament in 1957 in Brazil, when the United States faced the Soviet Union for the first time in a major competition. The Americans won the title game against the Soviets, 51-48, earning MVP honors for White, who averaged a team-high 14.1 points per game for the event. White’s performance earned her the unofficial title of best player in the world, which she could claim for years afterward.
Photos via Getty Images.
WSLAM 3 features cover features A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young.