Clara Baer, who introduced basketball at the H. Sophie Newcomb College for Women in New Orleans, influenced the women’s style of play with her set of women’s rules, published in 1895.
On receiving a diagram of the court from Naismith, Baer mistook dotted lines, indicating the areas in which players might best execute team play, to be restraining lines, with the result that the forwards, centres, and guards were confined to specified areas. This seemed appropriate because many felt that the men’s game was too strenuous for women.
Women’s rules over the years frequently have been modified. Until 1971 there were six players on a team, and the court was so divided that the three forwards played in the frontcourt and did all the scoring while the three guards covered the backcourt.
Senda Berenson staged the first women’s college basketball game in 1893 when her freshman and sophomore Smith College women played against one another. In April 1895 the women of the University of California (Berkeley) played Stanford University. Despite a multitude of hindrances (such as being thought unladylike), women’s basketball gradually secured a foothold. In 1971, when women’s rules were changed to reduce the number on a team from six players to five and women were freed from the limits imposed by the half-court game, the level of individual skills and competition quickly rose.
In the early 1980s control of the women’s college game was shifted from the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to the NCAA, a move that not only streamlined the operation and made it more efficient but also added to the visibility of women’s basketball. The women’s NCAA championship tournament runs concurrently with the men’s, and many of the games are nationally televised. Women’s basketball became an Olympic sport in 1976.
Individual women stars have been heavily recruited by colleges, but the players frequently found that there was no opportunity for them to play beyond the college level. Leagues were occasionally formed, such as the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WPBL); begun in 1978, the WPBL lasted only three years. Eventually filling the void was the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Aligned with the powerful NBA, the WNBA held its inaugural season in 1997 with eight teams. By 2006 the WNBA had grown to 14 teams, though following the season the Charlotte Sting disbanded, and in 2008 the WNBA’s inaugural champion, the Houston Comets, also folded.
The Sacramento Monarchs disbanded in 2009. The Eastern Conference consists of the Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun (in Uncasville), Indiana Fever (in Indianapolis), New York Liberty (in New York City), and Washington (D.C.) Mystics. The Western Conference comprises the Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx (in Minneapolis), Phoenix Mercury, San Antonio Silver Stars, Seattle Storm, and Tulsa (Oklahoma) Shock. Women’s professional basketball is played during the summer months.
Britannica / Sports / Basketball