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Top Women in Basketball History

Top American Female Basketball Players, Coaches and Others

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Women have been playing basketball almost as long as men have, though professional women's basketball is a more recent success. Learn here about some of the women who've made history in the sport of basketball.  Most of these are players -- some of whom have gone on to coaching or broadcasting or other fields.  Some are women who played professionally when there were no women's professional leagues available.  I've limited this particular list to American women in the sport.

Valerie Ackerman

Valerie Ackerman
Getty Images / Alex Wong

(November 7, 1959 - )

Noted for: First president of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)

High school basketball: Hopewell Valley Central High School in New Jersey (graduated 1977)
Also played field hockey and graduated first in class

College basketball: University of Virginia (graduated 1981)
Law degree, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

International professional basketball: France

Management:

  • Staff attorney for NBA
  • Various offices with NBA including vice president of business affairs
  • President of the Women's National Basketball Association (1996-2006)
  • Board of Governors of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Board of Directors of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Various other positions

Other career:

  • Key in creation of USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team
  • 2005-2008: first woman to serve as president of USA Basketball
  • Adjunct professor, Columbia University

Hall of Fame:

  • Board of Governors of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Board of Directors of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011

Senda Berenson

Girls High School Basketball 1909
Photographer likely John McCarthy. Courtesy Library of Congress.
(March 19, 1868 - February 16, 1954)

Noted for: Organized the first women's basketball team -- at Smith College, 1893. Men were not admitted as spectators.

Also known as: Senda Berenson Abbott, Mother of Women's Basketball

Born in Russia

Coaching: Physical education teacher at (all-women's) Smith College

Contributions to basketball history:

  • Organized first women's basketball team, adapting rules invented by Dr. James Naismith
  • Stressed basketball as exercise, socialization, not competition
  • First women's basketball game played: March 21, 1893
  • 1901 - 1907: wrote first Basketball Guide for Women
  • Chaired U.S. Women's Basketball Committee

Hall of Fame:

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985: one of three women inducted that year, the first women so honored
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 (first class of inductees)

Cynthia Cooper

Cynthia Cooper
Todd Warshaw / Getty Images

(April 14, 1963 - )
5 feet 10 inches / guard

Noted for:

Born in Chicago, raised in California

High school basketball: Locke High School, California

College basketball: University of Southern California (USC - Women of Troy), 1982 - 1986

USA team world competition:

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1988, 1992, gold medals
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1987, gold medal

International professional basketball: Spain, Italy

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Houston Comets, 1997 - 2000 and 2003

Coaching:

  • Phoenix Mercury (WNBA) 2001 - 2002
  • head coach, women's basketball team, Prairie View A&M University, 2006 (2008: NCAA announced penalties for Prairie View based on "major violations" of NCAA rules)
  • head coach, UNC Wilmington, women's basketball (Seahawks), 2010

Hall of Fame:

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 (first WNBA player)
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009

Married: Brian Dyke, 2001. Twin children born in 2002.

Autobiography: She Got Game published 2000.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, 1948
Getty Images / Hulton Archive
June 26, 1911 - September 27, 1956

Noted for: Babe Didrikson Zaharias is best known for track and field and for golf, but she started her sports career in high school basketball.

Read more:

Anne Donovan

Anne Donovan, 1984
Alvin Chung / Getty Images
(November 1, 1961 - )
6 feet 8 inch

Born in New Jersey

High school basketball: Paramus Catholic High School, New Jersey

College basketball: Old Dominion University

USA team world competition:

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1984, 1988: gold medals. 1980 team: did not compete due to US boycott; assistant coach at 2004 Olympics and head coach at 2008 Olympics (gold medal)
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1983, 1987: gold medals
  • Goodwill Games: 1986, gold medal
  • World Championship: 1986, gold medal

International professional basketball: Japan and Italy

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA):

Coaching: Old Dominion University; East Carolina University; Philadelphia Rage (American Basketball League); Indiana Fever (Women's National Basketball League / WNBA); Charlotte Sting (WNBA); Seattle Storm; New YOrk Liberty; Steon Hall University

Hall of Fame:

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999

Teresa Edwards

Teresa Edwards, 1998
Getty Images / Andy Lyons
(July 19, 1964 - )
5 feet 11 inches / guard

Noted for: youngest and oldest gold medalist in women's basketball at Olympics

Born in Georgia

High school basketball: Cairo High School; Georgia High School Player of the Year, 1982

College basketball: University of Georgia

USA team world competition:

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 (four gold medals, one bronze); first woman to play in Olympics basketball five different years
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1987: gold medal; 1991: bronze medal

International professional basketball: Italy, Japan, spain and France

American Basketball League: player and head coach

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Minnesota Lynx 2003 - 2004

Coaching: 2011: coach, Tulsa Shock (WNBA)

Sportscasting: NBC sports coverage for 2008 Olympics

Hall of Fame:

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010

Chamique Holdsclaw

Chamique Holdsclaw 1997
Getty Images / Otto Greule
(August 9, 1977 - )
6 feet 2 inches / forward

Born in New York

High school basketball: Christ the King Regional High School, Queens, New York

College basketball: University of Tennessee (Lady Vols), 3 consecutive NCAA Women's Basketball Championships, 4 time Kodak All-American

USA team world competition:

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 2000 Olympics (gold medal)
  • USA Women's Pan American Team:

International professional basketball: Spain, Poland

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Washington Mystics, Los Angeles Sparks; Atlanta Dream; San Antonio Silver Stars

Janice Lawrence Braxton

1984 - Janice Lawrence
Getty Images

June 7, 1962 -
6 feet 3 inches / center

Also known as: Janice Lawrence

College basketball: Louisana Tech (Lady Techsters) - national champions 1981 and 1982

USA team world competition:

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1984, gold medal
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1983, gold medal

Women's American Basketball Association (WABA): New York

International professional basketball:

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Cleveland Rockers, 1997 - 1999

Coaching: Cleveland Rockers, 2003 -

Hall of Fame:

  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006

Married: Steve Braxton, 1985

Read more:

Lisa Leslie

Lisa Leslie, 1989
Getty Images / Tony Duffy

(July 7, 1972 -)
6 feet 5 inches / center

Born in California

Also known as: Lisa Leslie-Lockwood

Noted for: WNBA MVP three times; Olympic gold medals four times; seven WNBA All-Star teams; two WNBA championships

High school basketball: Morningside High School, California

College basketball: University of Southern California

USA team world competition:

     

  • World University Games: 1991, gold medal
  • Jones Cup: 1992, gold medal
  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008: four gold medals
  • USA Women's Pan American Team:

International professional basketball:

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Los Angeles Sparks, 1997-2009

Sportswoman of the Year: 2001, Women's Sports Foundation

Other career: Lisa Leslie has also worked as a model and actress

Married: Michael Lockwood, 2006; two children (born 2007, 2010)

Nancy Lieberman

Nancy Lieberman in 1990
Tim DeFrisco / Getty Images

(July 1, 1958 - )

Noted for: first woman head coach in a U.S. men's professional league; only woman to play in a men's professional league; youngest and oldest women's basketball player in the Olympics

Born in Brooklyn, New York

Also known as: Nancy Lieberman-Cline, "First Lady of Hoops," "Lady Magic," "Michael Jordan of women's basketball"

High school basketball: Far Rockaway High School, Queens, New York

College basketball: Old Dominion University, Virginia

USA team world competition:

     

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1976, silver medal; qualified for 1980 team, which did not participate when US boycotted the Olympics
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1975, gold medal; 1979, silver medal

Professional basketball: played with the Dallas Diamonds, Women's Pro Basketball League (WBL); United States Basketball League (USBL); Washington Generals (played Harlem Globetrotters)

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Phoenix Mercury, 1997, oldest player in the WNBA; played for one game in 2008 for Detroit Shock

Coaching: began 1998 as Head Coach and General Manager of Detroit Shock, WNBA; in 2008, became first woman to coach a professional men's basketball team, for the Texas Legends, NBA Development League

Hall of Fame:

  • Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999

Married: Tim Cline, 1988, Washington Generals teammate; divorced 2001

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