Ok, so I know they are mostly like gazelles with muscle. And they can dribble the ball like nobody’s business and hit those three-pointers. Today’s women basketball players.
In my day you were innovative if you had a jump shot. Hook shots were still lethal. And passing was prized over dribbling, maybe because none of us was a Globe-Trotter.
But one of my special memories is being taken by Gene Haliburton, who worked at Vega schools and was a huge basketball fan, to a Wayland Flying Queen ballgame. Who remembers who they played; who cares? The Ransom girls, originally our nightmare from Claude, were over six-feet tall and the team featured a Harlem Globe-Trotter-style warm-up, complete with dazzling dribbling, behind the back passes, and other slight of hands. They had a three-point range which only counted two points back then. That flourishing set-shot. No black players though.
When I played later, as a college teacher at Tarrant County Junior College in the AAU (then for adults not kids), the only nationally competitive network for women, I played with a black gal named Ernestine. Ernie was our go-to center even though she didn’t measure six feet. But she was powerful and could spin and maneuver wherever we got her the ball.
We found out how much we missed Ernie when she couldn’t attend the National AAU Tournament in 1974 in Gallup, New Mexico. We all worked, and getting time off to travel for basketball was an issue. Ernie couldn’t go and I found myself having to jump center at tip-off and play a high post at five-foot seven.
Are you kidding me?
This was already five-on-five basketball, after AAU ball had first gone to a pair of rovers previously, in transition from six-man (lady) basketball. I didn’t really have a turn-around jump shot which is standard for most good post players. I had the moves, but my forte had been a fade-away jumper, mostly not guardable if I cut to the corner of the key just right.
I watched pro men’s basketball, trying to pick up moves, but mainly to get hyped. One of my favorite players was Hakeem Olijawon. We were asked to play an exhibition game at the nearby Zuni reservation against an all-black team from Washington, DC. I remember thinking how strange it was to have stands full of Zuni kids watching a white team from Texas play the black team from DC. And each of those gals was right at six feet tall.
Ernie, where the hell are you?
There were still quarters then, even in five-on-five play. We were somehow tied going into the fourth quarter when they blew us back to Texas
Afterwards, we licked our wounds at a local bar. It’s not what it sounds like. For some reason we mistook the bar for a cafe, maybe something to do with how tired we were after the game. My teammates were mostly Tarrant County Junior College students. There was a player coach, Ernie, and English Department me–three older women who should have known better. We had won the Texas competition, we reminded ourselves as we ordered our cokes. And we had participated in a tournament grand entry that featured among other things the Russian Olympic team.
1974. The AAU Championship was a feeder for the Olympics. I would later try out for the Olympic team, but that’s another story.
1974. Twelve naive Texas gals in a bar in downtown Gallup.
A Native American man came over from the bar–probably Navajo. We were sitting at a round table trying our best not to be conspicuous. He was carrying a black bag. He asked us what we were doing, who we were. We murmured a few comments embarrassed by our mistake–this was no cafe–and by our still wet hair and probably our red faces.
He sat the bag on the table, there in the center for all of us to see. Then he told us he was a medicine man, “a doctor, you know,” dragging the story out, egging our disbelief hidden beneath our politeness.
The bag did look like the old itinerant doctor’s bags of James Arnez westerns.
We half expected him to start dancing around our table, we were so vulnerable, so out of place.
“Don’t believe me?” he boomed. (I wish we had him on our team, at the center position, this powerfully built man.) “Just look inside.”
We didn’t want to. Really we didn’t. But we didn’t want to insult him even though we might have already when he first asked if we would buy him a drink.
We could take a teensy-weensy little look, we reasoned, and maybe then sneak out before anyone noticed, right?
All ten heads bent over to peer into the black abyss.
There was nothing inside.
As he headed back to his station at the bar, chuckling along with his buddies there, I remember thinking it wasn’t so bad. After all, I’d just played a fourth quarter in which I totally understood: there’s nothing inside!!