With the NCAA Women’s Tournament behind us in all of its inglorious disappointments*, we turn the calendar back to the December 1995 edition of Street & Smith’s NBA Playbook featuring a centerfold spread of the 1996i USA Basketball Women’s National Team. Smiling in red USA uniforms, these 11 women — plus coach Tara VanDerveer, whose Stanford Cardinal on Sunday won their first national title since 1992 — went on to become the legends, icons and stewards of women’s basketball that we know today.
In addition to VanDerveer, some of the most recognizable faces of the 1996 Olympic team who also came up big in the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tournament are Dawn Staley, who coached her South Carolina Gamecocks to a one-point heartbreaker of a Final Four loss on Friday to VanDerveer’s Cardinal, and Rebecca Lobo, who was on the broadcasting call for ESPN, identifying and lamenting the myriad egregious wrong calls and non-calls by the referees.
Their legacies as players prevail, in some ways as separate entities from the women who are building new legacies in coaching, broadcasting and beyond. Simultaneously, these living legends — through visibility, example and locker-room talks — are helping to cultivate the stories of the stars of tomorrow.
But will society’s age-old ills of patriarchy and misogyny leave their mentees, successors and proteges with the same double-duty of fighting for respect, visibility and equality?
The inglorious disappointments* of the this year’s tournament would suggest so, as the NCAA outdid itself in the game of discrediting and demeaning women. Moving beyond Weight Room Gate and Swag Bag Gate, the men’s championship game on Saturday and the women’s championship game on Sunday were a tale of two genders: one featuring a popstar performance and rich, media-driven storylines and the other featuring none of that, but the suggestion that the women simply should be grateful to have a tournament at all, and one that is televised, no less!
And that says nothing of the problematic zebras.
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