A Pro League of Their Own

Article excerpt

After the temperatures drop in Georgia, women hoopsters will mount a full-court press to make their professional basketball league a reality.

Forget Charles Barkley. Forget Michael Jordan. In fact, forget everything about the men's Dream Team III with their multimillion-dollar salaries, lucrative endorsement contracts and gold-medal guarantees. The real dream team in Atlanta is made up of women.

After years of discussion and several false starts, organizers of a women's professional basketball league plan its tip-off this fall. The newly inaugurated American Basketball League, or ABL, will field eight teams across the country: Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Hartford, Conn./Springfield, Mass.; and Richmond, Va., in the Eastern Conference and Denver; Portland, Ore.; San Jose, Calif.; and Seattle in the Western Conference. Reebok already has signed up as a sponsor and league owners are negotiating television rights.

"Basketball is the No. 1 youth-participation sport in the country right now," says Gary Cavalli, one of the founders of the league. "We think that attendance for women's games is strong and that we're ready to accept women as athletic role models. We also could not ask for better timing than to launch this program right after the Olympics."

Ten players from the U.S. women's national team have signed with the ABL. And if, with the exception of Sheryl Swoopes, the first woman to lend her name to a sneaker, they are largely unknown, Cavalli is banking that they'll prove their worth during the Summer Games. After all, Barkley claims the only players that could cause his mates to break a sweat are the U.S. women.

"This is definitely the most exciting thing that's happened in women's basketball for a long time," claims Jennifer Azzi, a member of the ABL advisory board and the U.S. national team. "It's like a dream come true. …