Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women's Professional Basketball League, 1978-1981

Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women's Professional Basketball League, 1978-1981

Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women's Professional Basketball League, 1978-1981

Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women's Professional Basketball League, 1978-1981


As the popularity of women's basketball burgeons, Karra Porter reminds us in Mad Seasons that today's Women's National Basketball Association, or WNBA had its origins in a ragtag league twenty years earlier. Porter tells the story of the Women's Professional Basketball League WBL, which pioneered a new era of women's sports. Formed in 1978, the league included the not-so-storied Dallas Diamonds, Chicago Hustle, and Minnesota Fillies. Porter's book takes us into the heart of the WBL as teams struggled with nervous sponsors, an uncertain fan base, and indifferent sportswriters. Despite bouncing paychecks, having to sleep on floors, and being stranded on road games, the players endured and thrived. Karra Porter brings to life the pioneers of the WBL: "Machine Gun" Molly Bolin, who set lasting scoring records-then faced an historic custody battle because of her basketball career; Connie Kunzmann, a popular player whose murder rocked the league; Liz Silcott, whose remarkable talents masked deeper problems off the court; Ann Meyers, who went from an NBA tryout to the league she had rebuffed; Nancy Lieberman, whose flashy play and marketing savvy were unlike anything the women's game had ever seen. A story of hardship and sacrifice, but also of dedication and love for the game, Mad Seasons brings the WBL back to life and shows in colorful detail how this short-lived but pioneering league ignited the imagination of a new generation of female athletes and fans.


“I have to ask you a question,” Bill Byrne said as we sat in a hotel lobby near
his home in Ohio. “Who was Joe Carr? You don’t know, do you?”

No, I didn’t.

“Joe Carr was the first commissioner in the nfl,” he said. “Everybody for
gets—believe me, everybody forgets unless people likeyou are writing books.”

And that’s why I wrote this book. the Women’s Professional Basketball League has been erased from history. As both a sports and history buff, I find it disturbing. Without understanding the past, how can players, owners, and fans appreciate what they have now? a three-hour layover in an airport doesn’t sound so bad to women who used to drag themselves into a gym after an all-day bus ride, play a 48-minute game in a 55-degree arena, then turn around and ride back again to save hotel costs.

And where are the great intergenerational debates that rage in men’s basketball? We might not know whether Wilt Chamberlain would have schooled Shaquille O’Neal, but we’ve certainly heard it argued often enough. Would Rosie Walker, indeed, “break Lisa Leslie in half”? Most of us could not refute this contention of St. Louis Streak coach Larry Gillman, because so few are aware of the first generation of professional women’s basketball players. (My take, by the way: wbl mvp Walker might have twisted wnba mvp Leslie into a pretzel, but Leslie can go inside or out, and Walker never strayed more than four feet from the basket. Each of them would score 32 points, but Walker would muscle her way in for more rebounds.)

People like Gillman, who can still recount the strengths and weaknesses . . .

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