Friday, July 29, 2011


 Recently I visited a doctor.s home , who  had contacted  me  to tell me he owned a photo of my dad's first Texas CowGirl basketball team taken in 1949 in Chicago where they had played exhibition games and trained to hit the road in the winter with a first season late start . He wanted to give it to me.

He took the framed photo from his wall that was covered in sports memorbrallia. I noticed Christy Martin and Danica Patrick autographed Sports Illustrated. I asked if he was a fan of both. Fan and collector of Sports Illustarted covers with femal athletes " There are not a enough you know." I don't count the swimsuit ones." he said.

I  started my day going through  the covers of Sports Illustrated  published in the 1950's , as part of my  daily 4 hours of research. The first publication  was  in 1953. From 1953-1959 only three covers were  basketball athletes : Bob Cousy, George Dempsey and Ken Sears.

The covers featured a variety of athletes in golf, hockey, football, track, boxing, hunting, equestrian , skiing, baseball, archery, harness racing. I was pleased to see a sprinkle of female athletes were represented  even if only in golf, archery, equestrian. Though no  women in basketball  represented what so ever.  The sports selected for the  women represented were non-threatening,  socially acceptable  sports for women. The selection of the covers also proved the argument that basketball was not getting  the media  attention  in sports popularity that  it has today. Even with the big stadium  NBA games , and  the barnstorm teams filling seats to capacity  every season.  This also proving the argument that the feat of basketball games was harder in this era,There were no national ads,  no million dollar media contracts.

My dad Dempsey  was very successful with numerous teams playing throughout the country in this era, filling stadiums to capacity and over capacity  to satisfied the ticket holders. He was often called to bring his most successful  women's team  The Texas CowGirls   to the N.B.A.  stadiums to play the opening games.. Even though they were young women that played men's rules against men, in an era  when females were subjected to second class citizen rules (  these social times included they could not acquire their own financial credit, were shut out of a lot of careers and financial benefits ) My dad did not live by that doctrine or follow the rules set as the status quo. He offered freedom in a career choice  to women in the world of professional basketball when it  was a mans game, mans rules, mans world. As a member of the famous House of David basketball team he had played against female basketball players, and had no reservations about the opposite sex playing against men. He had an upper hand with his gift as a promoter that brought his team to recognition nationally within the second year of their existence.

Eddie Gottlieb who was in control of the NBA game schedules for more than a quarter of a century ( once  coach of the Philadelphia Warriors,team owner and Negro Leauge baseball affiliate)  attended a number Texas Cowgirl games on the east coast where he witnessed  first hand  how they filled stadium seats. and  that they could play pro ball as good and tough as men.  Red Auerbach (coach Boston Celtics), Al Cervi ( coach Syracuse Nationals),  Joe Lapchick (coach N.Y. Knickerbockers ), Paul Birch (  coach Ft. Wayne Pistons),Herm Schaefer ( coach Indianapolis Olympians) , Les Harrison ( Rochester Royals coach), John Kundla ( coach Minneapolis Lakers ) all agreed that  The Texas CowGirls were choice for  openers on the NBA hardwood.

The NBL which had teams in smaller towns, and the BBA teams in larger cities were established leagues prior to the NBA  fans know  today.  Teams like the  Cleveland Rebels and  Sheboygan Redskins. Industrial  Leagues and recreational leagues  and barnstorm teams made their imprint on the game of basketball. The league was founded in New York City on June 61946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The league adopted the name National Basketball Association in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League (NBL).

The commercialized mega buck machine of pro basketball today is night and day compared to this infancy period . The teams before the NBA infancy period  and for the decades to come paved the way for the players and the teams known today. The Rens, The Texas Cowgirls, The Harlem Globetrotters, The Chic's,  The House of David  put butt's in seats, people came out of their homes bought a ticket and watched athletes entertain them with their skills on the courts. The Trotters and the Texas Cowgirls both helped fill those NBA stadiums with their gate sales. Memories of the spectators leaving after the CowGirls played also rang true  to the Globetrotters.  Barnstorming was a golden  ticket to play professional paid basketball. The ticket sales went  up when the Texas CowGirls were on the roster playing the opening game before the NBA teams squared off  that was good for the NBA team owners.
The NBA games however were boring  to the spectators.  In 1951 teams were leaving the new NBA (organized in 1949-1950 the same year Dempsey Hovland's Texas CowGirls hit the hardwood).

In 1951 there was  reorganizing of the  defunct NBL by  the 1953-54 season , the NBA had 17 teams at its height not the 30 franchised teams of today. then the NBA was down to  nine teams in 1954-55 and next season season eight teams. Syracuse Nationals owner Danny  Biasone suggested limiting the amount of time to take a shot speeding up the game. The crowds were bored with long periods of holding the ball just to keep it away.  He supported the twenty-four second rule on the basis of his observations, experience, and basic arithmetic. Biasone asserted that basketball proved most exciting when it achieved a balance between stalling contests and wild shootouts. He envisioned a well-paced match up in which each team took around sixty shots per game. , he was also a primary force in convincing the NBA to adopt the back court foul rule in 1953.The owners were not making profits. Hard to imagine for anyone younger than the basketball fans that started watching the game around or after 1959-1960 when the game changed from days  the of paychecks that were not huge or  todays millions, travel was not private, and ball players came to play the game for the love of the sport  without the perks and fat paychecks. It was not unusual to see an NBA player selling cars or painting houses off season to make ends meet.

 NBA basketball stars were mentors and supportive to the all female  Texas CowGirls team , in an era  when professional  women basketball players were rare and no organized  franchised league existed it would be decades before the formation of the WBL  and the current WNBA. It would be 1974 before girls were officially allowed to play Little League Baseball, the same year the National Women's Football League was formed the first tackle league for women,  In1973 a female tennis champ takes on a male tennis champ on the same court ,and it took until 1971 for women to get the official nod to play full court basketball. Dempsey's  female teams had broke those rules  his teams played full court since 1949 and men's basketball rules. The players  that had experience on teams in high school were skilled in girls basketball rules. Some  like my mom who played high school basketball in a small rural town had the advantage of years of playing on dirt courts against high  school boy basketball players learning men's rules and playing men's basketball., since she was a child. She got her first basketball at age eight and never put it down.

She went on to meet her basketball heroes  who shared their skills, when she met my dad Dempsey who hired her to play for his TexasCowGirls. His team was on the hardwood of the biggest NBA stadiums with the players that were the champions that created the growth and popularity  of professional basketball .
'Bob Petit- St. Louis Hawks ( the Texas CowGirls shared the court with him), and Wilt the Stilt Chamberlain  ( The Texas CowGirls toured with Wilt when he played with the Harlem Globetrotters and were invited to games as guests when he played for the Warriors) . Bob Cousy spent time with  the women teaching his dribbling skills, Big Ed McCauly practiced with the team , Goose Tatum mentored them in ball handling skills sometimes on Dempsey's patio at home. and Marquis Haynes who dribbled six times in per second . Dolph Shayes and my mom practiced on her jump shot, and Gearge Mikan shared his  skills, Jim Holstien and countless other future Hall of Fame athletes .

The  original NBA franchises were all located on the east coast reaching into the Midwest. The Lakers were in Minneapolis ,Minnesota  not L.A. California. The San Francisco Warriors were the Philadelphia Warriors, St Louis Hawks, Ft Wayne Pistons, Boston Celtics, Syracuse Nationals, The Chicago Bulls and many other powerhouse NBA teams did not exist. The players of the fifties were the trailblazers for what was to come,

Carl Braun, Max Zaslofsky, Vince Boryla , Bob Cousy, George Mikan.... Skeeter Martin, Big Ed McCauly, Paul Arizin, Vern Mikkelson, Bob Petitt, Harry Gallatin, Bill Sharman  , Larry Faust, Neil Johnson , Dolph Shayes were some of those trailblazers.
Fans today could  not imagine the NBA without the diversity it has . African American players were rare, Japanese American Wataru Misaka played for the NY Knicks pre NBA in 1947-1948. African Americans Chuck Cooper -Boston Celtics, Nate Sweetwater Clifton NY Knicks ( former Harlem Globetrotter, and Earl Lloyd  Washington Capitols were the first  to play.  In the sixties  Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain ( former Harlem Globetrotter) , Kareem Abdul Jabbar followed. Abe Saperestien owner of the Harlem Globetrotters sold his player Marquis Haynes contract to to the Philadelphia Warriors  without his knowledge. Marquis was angered and left the Trotters forming his own team asking my dad Dempsey to help him with bookings . Marquis returned to the Trotters after Abe's death  years of lawsuits brought on by Abe destroyed their relationship. He successfully ran his Harlem Magicians for many more years. Marquis would have been the highest paid player in the NBA if he had taken the contract, he is writing a book , in interviews he expresses he felt like Abe thought he could sell him like property.

My dad Dempsey  brought Native American , African American, Pacific Island women onto the hardwood on his professional basketball teams in the 1950s and 1960s no other women's barnstorm team integrated their teams. His approach was forward and broke the mold. To him an athlete was an athlete man or woman and any race or religion.  When his Texas CowGirls travelled with the Trotters Abe did not want the white women talking to the Trotters once they exited the tour bus much to my dads and the women's dismay ,and he did not want black women playing against the Trotters, (my dad had an African American women's team in the fifties ) , Eddie Gottlieb who scheduled all NBA games did not want women of color and it is said he was not happy when African Americans became NBA players saying they would ruin the game.

Researching women athletes on the Sports Illustrated covers in 1960's revealed an increase of women on covers golf, skating, archery, chess, track, tennis, diver, and three cheerleaders. No female basketball players, no high school or college female  players and absolutely no paid female professional players. Times were changing , In interviews I conduct with the women Texas CowGirls, Chic's Harlem Queens all teams my dad created owned and operated a theme continuum is spoken. "We were not playing basketball against men and beating them at their rules and beating them because we were trying to make a social statement, we were playing the game we did because we loved it your dad gave us the opportunity of a lifetime to do what we loved for a living,"

 When I watched the media hyped  Battle Of The Sexes Tennis Match between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King with my mom when I was 16 on television I was definitely confuse  I closely watched her face get tight I said "Well spit it out". She said
'Nonsence we have been beating men in a sport considered a man's sport for decades this is nothing new and tennis has been as much of a female sport as a male sport if not more."

Last week I watched a Globetrotter special from the eighties  narrated by Lou Gossett Jr who also  played my dad's friend Satchel Paige in his autobiography on film. He obviously never had a conversation with Mr Paige  about the Texas CowGirls that he travelled with or  with the statement that the Globetrotters had the first female break ground to play men's basketball and men's rules  with men would have  been  on the cutting room floor. Lynette Woodard was not born until 1959 ten years after the CowGirls had been playing basketball with men.  Lynette  played barnstorm  on the Trotters against men in 1985. History once again with murky muddy facts. . Babe Didrikson played in the 1930s traveling  with the House of David . My mom played against males since she was eight learning men's basketball rules as did a lot of the barnstormers She was a paid pro athlete playing against men on the hardwood since she was 17 born in 1934. History has been rewritten .

 Babe Didrickson  was born the same year as my dad . he played for the House of David she had a basketball team Babe Didrikson's All American that traveled with the House of David.
Known in sports history as a golfer she excelled in baseball, basketball,tennis, swimming, track, volleyball and handball. Golf  pro came later in her short life,she died in 1956 at the age of forty five in Texas. She was often chastised by the press for not being feminine enough, she too did not consider herself  a trailblazer for feminism just an athlete, growing up without constraints as a tomboy .

Tomboy I was called a tomboy if you played physically and not with Barbies tomboy was attached.An interviewer once asked Babe is there was anything she did not play she responded "yeah dolls."
Babe performed at a time when female athletes were considered freakish at best, downright unacceptable at worst. For most of her life she was the antithesis of femininity; not until her later years did she dress and act less manly. "She was not a feminist, not a militant, not a strategist launching campaigns against sexual liberation," wrote William Johnson and Nancy Williamson in Whatta-Gal!: The Babe Didrikson Story. "She was an athlete and her body was her most valuable possession."

Upon further research the Sports Illustrated covers of nineteen seventy decade covers featuring female athletes declined from twenty three to twelve. Seven of those covers featured Tennis players. One cover of Billy Jean King had her photo on the bottom and basketball coach John Wooten on the top, Nineteen eighties dedicated 18 covers to females tennis , track, skating, gymnastics, jockey, and the cover with female LA Rams team owner in a pink sweater and coiffed hair leaning on the shoulder of her  newly acquired quarterback . It was also the decade that a major cover title was Chris Everette tennis pro "I am retiring to be a full time wife" as the headline.
Title IX was enacted in 1972 to furnish more equitable financial aid to women's sports programs in schools. I was fifteen . At twelve my classmate Kathy Kuhn in eighth grade won you had to challenge and win the right to play with boys on the intramural football team in our tiny town of 800. I remember my mom  being very supportive and proud of her and trying to explain to me what was normal to me seeing and being raised with girls playing sports basketball and baseball with and against boys was not common and rarely done. How could this be it was all I knew. So I went to make a point fought to get on the boy's intramural basketball team I got on but did not carry the excellence gene in the sport both of my parents carried, and  I was not worthy I knew the expectations of me as the daughter of professional basketball players and resigned , with more appreciation than ever before of what it took my dads female players to be athletes as females and even more to be athletes that were equal or better than the men that took them on on the hardwood for almost 30 years.

So here it is 2011 cover Danica Patrick (from my hometown) is racing against the men, women are playing pro basketball against each other not  with men , and the most popular covers of women on Sports Illustrated are the swimsuit editions .  In 2010  covers were dedicated to female athletes 2 examples:
Jennie Finch  - July 2005

Lindsey Vonn - Feb. 8, 2010


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