BaseLines:Pioneers helped growth of women?s basketball

It has come a long way, baby. I?m referring to the ever-evolving sport of women?s basketball. Recently, women?s hoops has seen an spike in popularity and some of its partipiants have crossed over with succes to the men?s game.

I?grew up listening to the stories my mother told me about her experiences playing the basketball.

In her high school days during the late ?50s and early ?60s, more than a decade before the implementation of Title IX, women?s basketball was looked at a lot differently.

I heard tales about her and her teammates not being allowed to pass half court, resulting in a soccer-like game with two defenders in the back court and three offensive players beyond half court. It was illegal for any player to run the length of the floor because the powers that were thought females couldn?t handle all the running.

There was also no funding for the games. The school she went to didn?t provide the team with transportation to games. It was up to each player or her parents to provide transportation to games, which at times were two to three hours away.

Upon the implementation of Title IX in 1972, women?s basketball began to progress but still wasn?t taken very seriously by a lot of men.

A?few pioneers started to open some eyes though.

A native of Wichita, Lynette Woodard broke holds several NCAA records from her esteemed career at Kansas. She broke the gender barrier in basketball when she became the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Woodard paved the way for another women?s basketball legend, Cheryl Miller.

Miller, the older sister of former NBA sharp shooter Reggie Miller, scored 105 points in a high school game in 1982, was the first woman to dunk in a game while at USC and was drafted into the United States Basketball League in 1986.

However, Miller was not the first woman to play in a men?s porfessional basketball league.

Nancy Lieberman debuted with the USBL?s Springfield Fame in 1986. Lieberman has also broken the gender barrier by becoming the first woman to coach an NBA Developmental League team. She has not yet had an opportunity to stalk the sidelines for the Dallas?Maverick?s affiliate team from Frisco, Texas. The expansion NBDL?squad won?t start competition until 2010-11.

However, in one particular case, women?s basketball is not a proving ground to obtain a NBA head coaching position.

Following in Lieberman?s footsteps as the coach of the WNBA?s Detroit Shock, former Detroit Piston Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer is having problems finding a head coaching job in the NBA.

Laimbeer, who led the Shock to WNBA?championships in seven years as head coach, quit in 2009 to pursue an NBA coaching career.

Laimbeer interviewed for NBA jobs during the summer but was passed over for other candidates.

According to an ESPN Outside the Lines report, some NBA executives said they were not impressed with Laimbeer?s WNBA success.

Despite some continued disrespect, women?s basketball is more popular now than it ever has been.

In Connecticut and Tennessee, women?s college basketball is almost a religion. In fact, until a few years ago, Tennessee women?s basketball drew more attendance than the men?s team did.

With college basketball?s winningnest coach, Pat Summit, its not hard to see why.

The WNBA is also seeing improved success. The league?s 2009 season saw its third straight year of increased attendance and averaged a quarter-million viewers during regular season ESPN 2 broadcasts. The WNBA is also big on the Internet, boasting the second largest fan base among sports leagues on Facebook.

Quite a leap from the game my mother played in her prep school days.

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