Top Women in Basketball History

women's basketball coach

NBAE/Getty Images

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 top American 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.

Valerie Ackerman (November 7, 1959 - )

Valerie Ackerman, WNBA President, 2003
M. David Leeds/NBAE/Getty Images
  • 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 careers

  • 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 (March 19, 1868 - February 16, 1954)

smith college women's first basketball team

Unknown ca. 1902 photographer/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain 

  • 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

  • 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 (April 14, 1963 - )

Cynthia Cooper of the Los Angeles Sparks, July 1997

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

  • Stats: 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
  • International professional basketball: Spain, Italy
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Houston Comets, 1997 - 2000 and 2003
  • Married: Brian Dyke, 2001. Twin children born in 2002
  • Autobiography: She Got Game published 2000

USA Team World Competition

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

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

Babe Didrikson Zaharias (June 26, 1911 - September 27, 1956)

Babe (Didrikson) Zaharias

 Unknown (Toronto Star)/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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

Anne Donovan (November 1, 1961 - )

Anne Donovan, 1984

Alvin Chung/Getty Images

  • Birthplace: New Jersey
  • High school basketball: Paramus Catholic High School, New Jersey
  • College basketball: Old Dominion University
  • International professional basketball: Japan and Italy

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

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; Seton 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 (July 19, 1964 - )

Teresa Edwards, 1998

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

  • Stats: 5 feet 11 inches / Guard
  • Birthplace: Georgia
  • Noted for: Youngest and oldest gold medalist in women's basketball at Olympics
  • 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

Professional Career

  • 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 (August 9, 1977 - )

Chamique Holdsclaw 1997

Otto Greule/Getty Images 

  • Birthplace: 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
  • International professional basketball: Spain, Poland
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Washington Mystics, Los Angeles Sparks; Atlanta Dream; San Antonio Silver Stars

USA Team World Competition

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

Janice Lawrence Braxton (June 7, 1962 - )

janice lawrence

Public Domain

 

  • Stats: 6 feet 3 inches / Center
  • Also known as: Janice Lawrence
  • College basketball: Louisana Tech (Lady Techsters) - national champions 1981 and 1982
  • Women's American Basketball Association (WABA): New York

USA Team World Competition

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

International Professional Basketball

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

Hall of Fame

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

Lisa Leslie (July 7, 1972 - )

Lisa Leslie, 1989

Tony Duffy/Getty Images 

  • Stats: 6 feet 5 inches / Center
  • Birthplace: 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

Nancy Lieberman (July 1, 1958 - )

Nancy Lieberman in 1990

Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

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

  • Birthplace: 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 the US boycotted the Olympics
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1975, gold medal; 1979, silver medal

Career

  • 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 the 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

Rebecca Lobo (October 6, 1973 - )

Rebecca Lobo, 1995

Bob Stowell/Getty Images 

  • Stats: 6 feet 4 inches / Center
  • Birthplace: Connecticut
  • Also known as: Rebecca Lobo-Rushin
  • High school basketball: Southwick-Tolland Regional High School, Massachusetts
  • College basketball: University of Connecticut

Career

  • Hall of Fame: Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): New York Liberty, Houston Comets, Connecticut Sunn
  • National Woman's Basketball League: Springfield Spirit
  • Sportscasting: ESPN reporter, analyst
  • Other: Rebecca Lobo has been an advocate on the topics of breast cancer and knee injury

Ann Meyers (March 26, 1955 - )

Ann Meyers-Drysdale

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

  • Stats: 5 feet 9 inches / Guard
  • Birthplace: Milwaukee
  • Also known as: Ann Meyers Drysdale, Anne Meyers-Drysdale
  • High school basketball: Sonora High School, La Habra, California (also played softball, field hockey, tennis and badminton)
  • College basketball: UCLA Bruins women's basketball team

Noted For:

  • First woman to sign a free-agent contract with an NBA team (Indiana Pacers)
  • First high school player to play on the U.S. national team
  • Second woman to win a four-year athletic college scholarship
  • First player drafted in the Woman's Professional Basketball Association (New Jersey Gems, 1978)
  • Inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame, 1985
  • Inducted as first woman in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 1993
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, charter member, 1999

USA Team World Competition

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1976 (silver medal)
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1976 (gold medal), 1979 (silver medal)
  • USA Women's FIBA World Championship for Women Team: 1979 (gold medal)
  • USA Women's World University Games Team: 1977 (silver medal)

Career

  • National Basketball Association (WNBA): 1980, signed a contract with the Indiana Pacers, though she did not make the cut after try-outs
  • Women's Professional Basketball League (WPBL): 1978, New Jersey Gems
  • Sportscasting: She has been a network sports analyst on ESPN, CBS, and NBC, including for NBC coverage of the 2000 Olympics and for ABC coverage of the 1984 Olympics.
  • Management: In 2011, Meyers was serving as president and general manager of the Phoenix Mercury, a team in the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association), and as vice-president for the Phoenix Suns, an NBA team.

Hall of Fame

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 (charter member)
  • Inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1985

Cheryl Miller (January 3, 1964 - )

Cheryl Miller 1994

Otto Greule/Getty Images

  • Stats: 6 feet 4 inches / Forward
  • Birthplace: California
  • High school basketball: Riverside Polytechnic High School
  • College basketball: University of Southern California (USC)

USA Team World Competition

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1984, Los Angeles: gold medal
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1983, gold medal
  • USA Women's Goodwill Games Team: 1986, gold medal

Career

  • Professional basketball: Drafted by the United States Basketball League, a men's league
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Knee injuries kept her from playing professional basketball
  • Coaching:
    • 1993 - 1995: Head coach at USC
    • 1997 - 2000: coach and general manager for Phoenix Mercury, Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)
  • Sportscasting: Commentator, reporter, analyst for TNT, TBS, ABC, NBC

Hall of Fame

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999

Dawn Staley (May 4, 1970 - )

dawn staley

NBAE/Getty Images

  • Birthplace: Pennsylvania
  • High school basketball: Dobbins Tech High School, Philadelphia
  • College basketball: University of Virginia

Career

  • USA team world competition: US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1996, 2000, 2004 (gold medals); assistant coach 2008 (gold medal)
  • International professional basketball: France, Italy, Brazil, and Spain
  • American Baskeball League: Richmond Rage, 1996
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Charlotte Sting, 1999; Houston Targets, 2005
  • Coaching: Temple University head coach, 2000; head coach, University of South Carolina, 2008

Pat Summitt (June 14, 1952 - )

Pat Summitt 1995 Lady Vols

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

  • Noted for: winningest coach in NCAA basketball history (for men's or women's basketball)
  • Birthplace: Tennessee
  • Also known as: Patricia Sue Head
  • High school basketball: Cheatham County, Tennessee
  • College basketball: University of Tennessee at Martin
  • Coaching: since 1974: University of Tennessee Lady Vols

USA Team World Competition

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: co-captain first-year women's basketball was included in the Olympics, 1976 (silver medal); coached 1984 team in 1894 (gold medal)
  • USA Women's Pan American Team:

Recognition

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 (inaugural class)
  • Named Naismith Basketball Coach of the Century, 2000
  • #11 on Sporting News list of 50 Greatest Coaches of All Time (all sports) -- and the only woman on the list

Sheryl Swoopes (March 25, 1971 - )

Sheryl Swopes USA Beats Brazil, Atlanta, 1996 Olympics

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

  • Noted for: First player signed by any WNBA team
  • Birthplace: Texas
  • Also known as: "female Michael Jordan"
  • Early basketball: Little Dribblers children's league; member of 1988 Texas State Championship Team
  • College basketball: South Plains College; Texas Tech (Lady Raiders)

Career

  • USA team world competition: US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1996, 2000, 2004 (gold medals)
  • International professional basketball: played in Russia, Italy, Finland
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Houston Comets, Seattle Storm, Tulsa Shock

Margaret Wade (December 30, 1912 - February 16, 1995)

  • Noted for: pioneer coach
  • Birthplace: Mississippi
  • Also known as: L. Margaret Wade
  • High school basketball: Cleveland High School
  • College basketball: Delta State University

Coaching

  • Cleveland High School: 19 years
  • Delta State University: 3 seasons, beginning in 1973 when Delta State reinstated women's basketball

Recognition

  • Margaret Ward Trophy created in 1978: An award for the top women's college player of the year
  • Hall of Fame:
    • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985
    • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999

Nera White (November 15, 1932 - )

  • Noted for: AAU All-American every year from 1955 to 1969; MVP of the team nine times
  • Birthplace: Tennessee
  • College basketball: played for AAU women's basketball team in Nashville while she attended George Peabody College for Teachers
  • USA team world competition: World Championship: 1957

Hall of Fame

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999

Lynette Woodard (August 12, 1959 - )

Lynette Woodard - 1990

Tony Duffy/Getty Images

  • Noted for: first woman to play with the Harlem Globetrotters team
  • Birthplace: Kansas
  • High school basketball: Wichita North High School
  • College basketball: University of Kansas -- All-American four times

USA Team World Competition

  • US Olympic Women's Basketball: 1984 (co-captain), gold medal; selected for 1980 team but US boycotted the 1980 Olympics
  • USA Women's Pan American Team: 1983 (gold medal), 1991 (bronze medal)
  • USA Women's Team, World University Games: 1979, gold medal
  • USA Women's Team, World Championships: 1983 (silver medal), 1990 (gold medal)

Career Highlights

  • International professional basketball: Italy, Japan
  • Harlem Globetrotters: 1985-1987
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA): Cleveland Rockers, Detroit Shock
  • Coaching: University of Kansas
  • Other career: financial consultant, stockbroker

Hall of Fame

  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004
  • Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005