#FromtheArchives: All the game changers who've come before
As we celebrate new women's basketball stars, let's not get carried away with superlatives.
So, a few weeks ago I published a piece that looked back at the history of women’s basketball (and women’s sports in general):
That piece took months of research and sent me down many, many rabbit holes in the newspaper archives. In the piece, I focus on all of the success women’s basketball has had in the past, in terms of ratings and attendance, and how most of that success was ignored by investors or treated as one-off occurrences. It was a consistent pattern over decades. But it wasn’t the only pattern I found.
Every couple of years, a new college women’s basketball player came along who was supposed to save women’s basketball, change the game forever, single-handedly launch the sport into the next stratosphere, on-court and off.
As we begin this new college basketball season, I can see a lot of the same rhetoric used with players like Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, Angel Reese, and even freshman like JuJu Watkins and MiLaysia Fulwiley. And I’ll be honest, something about it rubs me the wrong way. Not because these woman are getting coverage and praise — it’s all deserved, bring on the hype — but rather because said coverage is often lacking context.
Clark isn’t the first women’s basketball player to inspire huge crowds to come out when she plays away games; Fulwiley isn’t the first women’s basketball player to display moves on the court that would put NBA players to shame. And nobody is the savior of women’s basketball, because the sport doesn’t need saving.
Anyways, I’m rambling (how unusual!). But the whole point of this newsletter is to look back at some of the fanfare bestowed on the legends of women’s basketball past during their college careers, because it’s fun, and also because it’s a great reminder that today’s greats are truly standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before them.
Into the archives we go!! (All of the emphasis below is mine.)
Here’s what Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated said about Cheryl Miller in the November 20, 1985 issue, in which she was one of three college players — and the lone woman, of course — on the cover:
With apologies to Wayne Gretzky, back on the hardwood Miller probably is the most dominating individual in a team sport of this era. Arguably she is the finest basketball player of her gender who ever lived. Miller's goal this final season is to play so spectacularly well that, as she says, "You can strike arguably" from that phrase. Fellow 1984 Olympian Kim Mulkey, now an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, says simply, "Women's basketball is Cheryl Miller." And beyond this: What athletes transcend their sport? How many transcend while still playing? Ruth, perhaps. Ali, maybe. Jackie Robinson. And now a 21-year-old black-magic woman and dyna-kid princess from down the lane in Riverside, Calif.