by Nicole Powell / @NKP14
Forty years ago, Title IX went into effect, and this past summer, the fruits of it were on display. The most successful professional women’s sports league in history, the WNBA, began its 16th season in May, shortly before the entire country watched the US women reign over the London Olympics. It’s hard to imagine that anyone foresaw the legislation of 1972 as a steppingstone to the creation of professional women’s sports or the dramatic increase of female Olympic participants. But it did.
American female athletes competing in the Games not only outnumbered their male counterparts for the first time (269 to 261) but also brought home more medals than the men (58 to 45), including 29 Gold. Not to be outdone, the US women’s basketball team continued its world dominance by raking in its fifth consecutive Gold medal.
At the WNBA’s Inspiring Women National Luncheon this past September, the league honored several female Olympians as well as the most recent USA women’s basketball team. Before the awards ceremony began, I was asked by David Cho, the senior global marketing manager for adidas, about the path that led me to the pros. My answer was to point across the room to Teresa Edwards, a five-time Olympian who helped lead the USA women’s team to Gold in the ‘96 Games in Atlanta. It was not just her, of course. There was a group of outstanding athletes, a Hall-of-Fame coach from Stanford named Tara VanDerveer, and a year-long commitment by USA Basketball, which allowed the team to take the country by storm on its way to a 60-0 record as preparation for the Games.
The hard work more than paid off. The goal was Gold, but something far greater had taken place—young girls, like myself, were inspired. We were witness to women performing at the highest level, on the grandest stage. In ’97, the WNBA rolled into existence on the heels of that team’s historic momentum, matching the dreams the games had provided to all of us with the reality of a professional league.
The buzz around this past summer’s team matches that of ’96 because the drive to win a fifth straight Gold medal was historic. And while all the current players are stars in their own right, it was momentous in that it celebrated all those who had come before them, as well as those who will follow in their footsteps. None of us yet know the impact that this particular team will have on future generations. But after watching the final game with a friend of mine and her family, I was witness to the fact that her 12-year-old daughter could hardly wait to tell her brother about “this ridiculous Parker move,” and that she was firing up shots right after the final buzzer sounded—no medal ceremony necessary.
I’d call that being inspired.
Currently a forward for the WNBA’s New York Liberty with a freelance writing hustle on the side, Nicole Powell studied and played basketball at Stanford.