The History of Women's Basketball

You may be surprised to know that women began playing basketball less that a year after the game was invented in 1891. However, when women’s basketball originated, the players had to wear corsets and floor-length skits. The only skin they were allowed to show was their fingers, neck, and heads. The game has come a long way since then.

Take a look at the timeline to see just how much women’s basketball has evolved.

1892 – Gymnastics instructor Sendra Berenson Abbott adapts James Naismith’s basketball rules for women and introduces the game at Smith College. The first inter-institutional game is played the same year between the University of California and Miss Head’s School.

March 13, 1895 – Clara Gregory Baer, a physical education teacher at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, publishes “Basquette,” the first set of basketball rules for women.

April 4, 1896 – The first women’s intercollegiate game takes place at the Armory Hall in Stanford and Cal. Stanford won the game, 2-1.

1905 – The Executive Committee on Basketball Rules is formed with support of the American Physical Education Association.

1918 – The rules of women’s basketball are rewritten to conform to the wording and sequence of the men’s rules. The game is called by 11 officials, there is no coaching allowed during the game, except at halftime, and a basket with an open bottom is now used instead of a closed basket with a pull chain.

1924 – The International Women’s Sports Federation is formed and holds its own version of the Olympic games. Women’s basketball is included in the competition.

1926 – The Amateur Athletic Union sponsors the first-ever national women’s basketball championship, using men’s rules.

1953 – The USA women’s basketball team with the gold medal in the World Championships.

1969 – The Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women hosts its first of three “national championships” of women’s college basketball.

1971 – The five-player, full court game is adopted and the 30-second shot clock is introduced.

1973 – The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women’s awards the first scholarships for women.

January 27, 1975 – Immaculata College defeats the University of Maryland, 85-63, in the first-ever regular-season nationally televised game.

March 1975 – By sponsoring the inaugural Women’s Basketball Coaches Clinic, the Eastman Kodak Company becomes the first corporate sponsor for women’s basketball.

July, 1976 – Women’s basketball debuts at the Montreal Olympics. The U.S. wins the silver medal.

December 9, 1978 – The first game of the Women’s Professional Basketball League took place between the Chicago Hustle and the Milwaukee Does. The eight-team league lasted three seasons.

August 30, 1979 – Ann Meyers, 24, signs a $50,000 contract with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. She receives a tryout, but does not make the team.

1981 – The first NCAA Women’s National Championships are held. Also, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association is formed.

1984 – The U.S. women’s basketball team captures its first Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles. This year, the NCAA introduces a smaller basketball for women as well.

February 10, 1991 – Shock assistant coach Laurie Byrd scores a game high 25 points in the first, and only, game of the Liberty Basketball Association. The game between the Detroit Dazzlers and the LBA All-Stars took place at the Palace in front of 10,753 spectators. The Dazzlers won 104-84. The league, which featured shorter courts, lower rims, and unitards folded after the first game.

November 1994 – The inaugural 16-team women’s preseason National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is held.

April 24, 1996 – The NBA Board of Governors approves of the Women’s National Basketball Association Concept.

October 18, 1996 – The American Basketball League tips off its first season with eight teams.

October 23, 1996 – The first players, Rebecca Lobo, and Sheryl Swoopes are signed to play in the WNBA. Their Olympic teammate Lisa Leslie soon follows.

October 30, 1996 – Eight cities; Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Utah, are selected to be homes to the WNBA’s charter teams.

February 27, 1997 – The WNBA holds its Elite Draft for 16 signed veteran players.

April 28, 1997 – The WNBA holds its draft for college players and unsigned veterans. Tina Thompson of USC is the first pick.

June 21, 1997 – The first WNBA season begins.

June 13, 1998 – The Detroit Shock play their first-ever WNBA game.

1999 – The first class is inducted into the new Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Kentucky.