Top Women in Basketball History

Top American Female Basketball Players, Coaches and Others

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.

01
of 19

Valerie Ackerman

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

(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
02
of 19

Senda Berenson

Girls High School Basketball 1909
Girls Basketball Team, Milton High School, Milton, North Dakota, 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)
03
of 19

Cynthia Cooper

Cynthia Cooper
Cynthia Cooper of the Los Angeles Sparks, July 1997. 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, 1948
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.

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05
of 19

Anne Donovan

Anne Donovan, 1984
Anne Donovan for the US team against Korea, 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
06
of 19

Teresa Edwards

Teresa Edwards, 1998
Teresa Edwards at WABL All-Star Game, 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
07
of 19

Chamique Holdsclaw

Chamique Holdsclaw 1997
Chamique Holdsclaw playing for the Lady Vols, University of Tennessee, 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

08
of 19

Janice Lawrence Braxton

1984 - Janice Lawrence
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:

09
of 19

Lisa Leslie

Lisa Leslie, 1989
Lisa Leslie, 1989, Morningside HIgh School, Inglewood, California. 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)

10
of 19

Nancy Lieberman

Nancy Lieberman in 1990
Nancy Lieberman in 1990, for US National Basketball team. 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

11
of 19

Rebecca Lobo

Rebecca Lobo, 1995
Rebecca Lobo, 1995, in Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut. Getty Images / Bob Stowell

(October 6, 1973 - )
6 feet 4 inches / center

Born in Connecticut

Also known as: Rebecca Lobo-Rushin

High school basketball: Southwick-Tolland Regional High School, Massachusetts

College basketball: University of Connecticut

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

Hall of Fame:

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

Married: Steve Rushin, writer, 2003; four children (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)

12
of 19

Ann Meyers

Ann Meyers-Drysdale
Ann Meyers-Drysdale in 2008 at Billie Awards. Getty Images / Frazer Harrison

(March 26, 1955 - )
5 feet 9 inches / guard

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

Born in 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

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)

National Basketball Association (WNBA): 1980, signed 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

Married: Ann Meyers married Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale in 1986. They had three children. Don Drysdale died in 1993.

Dave Meyers, who played college basketball at UCLA and professional NBA basketball with the Milwaukee Bucks, is Anne Meyers' brother.

13
of 19

Cheryl Miller

Cheryl Miller 1994
Cheryl Miller, coach of the USC women's basketball team, as the Lady Trojans play the Stanford Cardinal, 1994. Otto Greule / Getty Images

(January 3, 1964 - )
6 feet 4 inches / forward

Born in 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

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

Family: brothers are NBA player Reggie Miller and baseball catcher Darrell Miller

14
of 19

Dawn Staley

Dawn Staley
Dawn Staley at practice before 1996 Olympics. Getty Images
(May 4, 1970 - )
5 feet 6 inches / guard

Born in Pennsylvania

High school basketball: Dobbins Tech High School, Philadelphia

College basketball: University of Virginia

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

15
of 19

Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt 1995 Lady Vols
Pat Summitt, head coach of the Lady Vols, University of Tennessee, at 1995 NCAA semi-finals. Getty Images / Jonathan Daniel

(June 14, 1952 - )

Noted for: winningest coach in NCAA basketball history (for men's or women's basketball)

Born in Tennessee

Also known as: Patricia Sue Head

High school basketball: Cheatham County, Tennessee

College basketball: University of Tennessee at Martin

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:

Coaching: since 1974: University of Tennessee Lady Vols

Recognition includes:

  • 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

Married: 1980 to R. B. Summitt, divorced 2007. One son.

16
of 19

Sheryl Swoopes

USA Beats Brazil, Atlanta, 1996 Olympics
Sheryl Swopes and USA Women's Basketball Beats Brazil, Atlanta, 1996 Olympics. Doug Pensinger / Getty Images
(March 25, 1971 - )
6 feet 0 inches / guard/forward

Noted for: First player signed by any WNBA team

Born in 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)

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

Family: married 1995-1999, had one son. In 2005, announced she was gay, partner is Alisa Scott, basketball player and coach. More: WNBA Star Sheryl Swoopes Comes Out as a Lesbian

17
of 19

Margaret Wade

(December 30, 1912 - February 16, 1995)

Noted for: pioneer coach

Born in 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

Margaret Ward Trophy created 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

 

    18
    of 19

    Nera White

    (November 15, 1932 - )

    Noted for: AAU All-American every year from 1955 to 1969; MVP of the team nine times

    Born in 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

    Other sports: Nera White also played softball, honored with several awards.

    Lynette Woodard - 1990
    Lynette Woodard - 1990. Getty Images / Tony Duffy

    (August 12, 1959 - )
    guard

    Noted for: first woman to play with the Harlem Globetrotters team

    Born in 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)

    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

    More about Lynette Woodard:

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