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On this date, we explore Black women and professional basketball. The game of basketball had been created in 1891 and Black men entered the ranks of professional players (the NBA) in the 1950s.
During the first half of the 20th century, gender discrimination prevented most women from participating in areas traditionally dominated by men, and basketball was no exception. Founded in 1931, two of the earliest all-Black, all-female basketball clubs were the Philadelphia Tribune Girls, led by Ora Mae Washington, and the Chicago Romas. The Romas, who played against both male and female teams, never lost a game for six years after World War II (1939-1945). Corinne Robinson, Mignon Burns, Lillian Ross, Virginia Willis, Lola Porter, and Isadore Channels were among the Roma’s best players.
Although Black women continued to play basketball throughout the 1930s and 1940s, they were unable to enjoy many of the opportunities that the game afforded Black men, including national recognition and real money. It is only within the last 20 years that women's basketball has gained national backing. In 1985, Lynette Woodard became the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. In the mid-1990s, after years of success by women's collegiate and Olympic basketball teams, public interest in women's basketball convinced a group of entrepreneurs to form the American Basketball League (ABL). The eight teams of the ABL began play in 1996, and in March 1997, the Columbus Quest defeated the Richmond Rage in a five-game series to win the inaugural leagues first championship. The ABL declared bankruptcy and folded in December 1998.
The New York Girls, 1910
The NBA also formed an eight-team women's league, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), which began play in June 1997. Both leagues recruited the top women basketball stars in college, including former U.S. Olympic stars Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. The 6 foot 5 inches tall Lisa Leslie is a member of the Los Angeles Sparks (WNBA). She is considered one of the top shot blockers and rebounders in the league. Swoopes, a 1996 Olympic champion and member of the Houston Comets in the WNBA, is the first woman to have her own shoe named after her, the Air Swoopes. African American women, like their male counterparts, have brought innovation and style to the game of basketball.
They have opened new doors for young women and in turn, have made remarkable contributions to the struggle to empower women throughout the world. Basketball has always been about much more than guiding a ball through a hoop. The history of American basketball tells a compelling story about athletic competition in a nation struggling to live up to its ideals of gender equity. Basketball is a sport transformed by the presence of African Americans, and other non-white players. It offers the cultural, sexual, and social changes in the United States.
African American women such as Tina Charles, Seimone Augustus, Candice Parker, Angel Goodrich, Maya Moore and others have put the presence of female power in full view. This is crucial to the sport’s future and the distribution of revenue.
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