Manual Venus to the Hoop: A Gold Medal Year in Womens Basketball

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Marianne from Connecticut: Sara, my whole family read the book and loved it. Now that the Olympics are over, what are your feelings about the new women's professional basketball leagues?

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Sara Corbett: Well, thanks, Marianne! Tell your family I appreciate the support.

Meanwhile, what the WNBA lacks at least right now is top-level players playing great basketball, which the ABL had during its first season, at least to a greater extent. At the same time, it's hard to complain about having women's basketball out there year-round.


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Pete from Baltimore, MD: Do you think the league s can be most successful if they play in the summer or winter? Sara Corbett: At first, I was skeptical about a summer league, but when I see the amount of coverage the WNBA's getting in the media as well as the league's great opportunities for televised games, I think summer is the right time.

Thomas from North Carolina: I've recently seen a highlight with the first female to dunk a basketball in a game I believe it was an old N. State player. Were there any players on the '96 team that could dunk the ball? Just curious Can't wait to read your book! There are a handful of women in this country who are capable of dunking.

Dunking's become a political issue in women's basketball, though. While it's exciting to watch a woman dunk the ball, it also tends to encourage comparisons between men's and women's basketball -- something many players and coaches feel is unproductive. Was their peer pressure to go to one league or another? Sara Corbett: That's a good question, Pete.

Nine of the original 11 women on the team had committed to the ABL back in September For most of the year, the team had an "all for one, one for all" attitude about the ABL. They worked very hard to help the ABL organizers make administrative decisions. When the WNBA announced its intentions to start a league in April , suddenly the women had choices to make. It was undeniably tough on all of them. At the moment they most needed to be thinking and acting like a team, they also had to contend with their futures as individuals. It's a real testament to the women, though, that they finally came to respect one another's various choices.

Tyler Lake from Milbourne, NY: What are some of the discrepancies between the men's and women's teams as far as benefits and sponsorship goes?

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Sara Corbett: The women are still a long way off in terms of equity when it comes to pay. But the leagues are new, and really women's sports is new territory for everyone involved -- from the shoe companies handing out sponsorship deals to the marketing folks negotiating endorsements to the league officials who determine salaries. Lisa Leslie probably makes more than any other woman out there. Dick P. Sara Corbett: Good question, Dick. The WNBA did get some of the top talent internationally.

Michele Timms of Australia is one of the best point guards ever to play the women's game. Elena Baranova from Russia is a phenomenal post player. However, the best players from the U. Jwcymca aol. Was she one the primary leaders behind the '96 team from your perspective? Sara Corbett: I agree with you that Rebecca is a well-rounded person with a great attitude. She's also a well-rounded basketball player. On the Olympic team, though, she was one of two rookies.

It was actually a very tough year for her, coming off a great undefeated championship season and then being tossed into a team of much older, much more experienced players. Beyond that, the coach strongly felt and voiced publicly that Rebecca didn't belong on the team. This is where Rebecca's sterling character comes into play.

She handled those pressures, along with the pressure of being the most popular member of the team, but not the most talented, with real maturity. I'm happy to see, also, that she's really worked hard in the last year to beef up her playing. I can't wait to read your book about these awesome ladies, but what were some of your favorite things that happened off the court?

Sara Corbett: One of the greatest parts of the year for me was going to China with the team. For everyone, it was like going to another planet, almost. I'll never forget sitting down to eat with Rebecca Lobo and some of the others and being served deep-fried chicken claws! I also loved hanging around airports with the team as we did often, traveling that much. Dawn Staley loves to fill empty time by betting. In airports, she'd either get high-stakes card games going or stand at the luggage carousel taking bets on whose luggage would come out first.

Jen from Avon, CT: I just got your book and am looking forward to reading it! I am a field hockey player, a very different game, but do you think that other women's teams will follow in the footsteps of the WNBA? Sara Corbett: Jen, I like to hope that someday women's professional sports will thrive in the U.

At the moment, however, even women's basketball, which is the fastest-growing sport for women and girls in this country, has a tentative future.

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I do think women's basketball is here to stay, and I'm hoping it will help pave the way for other professional opportunities for women athletes. Do you see any of the players in the WNBA up to the task that Bird and Johnson did as far as bringing fan interest to the game? There's a lot of speculation that the two leagues will eventually merge, similar to what happened with the ABA, but neither group is talking about a merger at this point. Right now the WNBA holds the trump card -- television contracts -- and while the ABL has great talent, the WNBA can either wait for contracts to expire or hope to attract new talent in seasons to come.

Lisa Leslie tends to electrify people. Teresa Weatherspoon is really exciting the New York fans, as well. Clayton from Delaware: Did you ever get a feeling for how these women reacted to initial criticism that they were merely trying to emulate the men's team -- were they angered, or not surprised at all? Sara Corbett: I think the women, most of whom grew up being picked on for playing basketball -- having to push themselves into boys' playground games and so forth -- have become fairly impervious to criticism.

It's a shame that sexist attitudes continue to exist about women playing what's traditionally been considered a man's game, but the women on the Olympic team have seen and heard enough of it not to let it get them down. Michael from Brighton, MA: Do you know why they have not lowered the net for women's basketball?

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Honestly, wouldn't this make sense? Sara Corbett: I think that's a debatable point, actually. The women you see playing in the pro leagues have played with regulation-sized hoops their entire lives To make the scores higher? To encourage dunking? To my knowledge there has been no discussion in either league about lowering the rims.

I think most players would tell you they feel that "cheapens" the game. They play a fast-paced, team-oriented, and highly physical game with standard rims. I don't think there's a lot of support for the notion of lowering them. Tiffany Harper from Long Island: Did you do much research before writing this book? Did you discover a lack of previous material on women athletes? I have myself been disappointed about the slim amount of research on the female athlete. Sara Corbett: I did try to do a lot of research, Tiffany, and you're right: There's very little out there.

USA Basketball - Women's Road to Gold 2016

I was lucky to come across some great resources, though, many of which were academic texts and not easy to find in bookstores. It's encouraging, though, to see a new flood of women's sports books coming on the market.