The apocalyptic chaos of the first women's basketball world championships
#FromtheArchives: In Chile in 1953, Team USA battled rain, fire, power outages, and rock throwing on the way to their first world championship win.
Hi, friends! What a week. I hope that all of you are doing well, particularly those of you in Hurricane Ian’s path of destruction.
Right now, the FIBA Women’s World Cup is finishing up in Australia — the United States faces China for the gold at 2:00 a.m. ET Saturday morning and Canada faces Australia for the bronze medal at 11:00 p.m. ET on Friday night. (In the United States, the bronze-medal game will air on ESPN+ and the gold-medal game on ESPN.)
I’ve been thinking about women’s basketball history a lot lately, particularly since reading Andrew Maraniss’s wonderful book Inaugural Ballers, on the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team in 1976. (I interviewed him for Burn It All Down, and you all should definitely listen.) This all made me curious about the first official women’s world championship, which happened in 1953.
So, I took a peak in the archives to see what I could find. And friends, WHAT A JOURNEY.
Here’s a photo of the team meeting Chilean officials
Let’s set the stage with a visual. This picture was published in The Daily Times of Davenport, Iowa on May 6, 1953. And yes, it’s notable that the team was all white.
Okay, now onto actual basketball.
The United States beat Chile 49-36 in the final game to clinch the first world championship
Here’s an AP report published in The Daily American of Somerset, Pennsylvania, on March 26, 1953 about the final game.
The game had to be STOPPED because fans were so angry at referees. Incredible. Apparently today’s fans are tame!
Betty Clark, a guard on Team USA, describes rain, fires, and rock throwing during the title run
Oh March 27, 1953, sports columnist Jerry Jurgens published a letter from Betty Clark in The Daily Times of Davenport, Iowa, in which she described the atmosphere of the final two games of the tournament. This is WILD, my friends.
Like, CAN SOMEONE MAKE THIS INTO A MOVIE??? Outdoor basketball in the rain. Fans so mad at ref calls they are setting fires and throwing rocks during the game. The cheery tone of the letter is quite the contrast to the world she’s describing. I’m obsessed.
More info on the rain game, in which the U.S. defeated Paraguay 41-31
Here’s an AP article published in the Arizona Daily Star on March 22, 1953, which describes Team USA’s second-to-last game in the tournament.
They had to play outdoors in the rain through a power outage. I’m pretty sure that was the plot of an episode of Friday Night Lights.
I desperately need to see video footage of this.
More info on Betty Clark, the Moline office girl
Finally, here’s a profile on Betty Clark after the tournament, published in The Dispatch in Moline, Illinois on April 2, 1953. It was hard to find a lot of details about the tournament itself, so I thought you’d enjoy this write-up.
Also, do we think Betty and Caitlin Clark are related?
Finally, we love this headline from The Wichita Eagle on March 22, 1953
Have a great weekend, friends! See you in your inboxes next week.