Women's Basketball League

By: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1996

Updated: July 27, 2017

The Dallas Diamonds and the Houston Angels provided Texas's contribution to the Women's Basketball League, a short-lived but significant effort, in the late 1970s, that gave women an opportunity to be paid for playing a team sport in the United States. The WBL was founded in the fall of 1978 by William Byrne. It began as the Women's Professional Basketball League with teams in eight cities playing a thirty-four game schedule. In the first year of the league, the Houston Angels bested New York, New Jersey, and Dayton teams to win the Eastern Division, then went on to defeat the Iowa Cornets for the league championship in the spring of 1979. The final game of the championship series, played at Houston's Hofheinz Pavilion, drew some 6,000 fans. The following year the league shortened its name and increased its size to fourteen teams in three divisions. For this 1979–80 season Houston moved to the Western Division, where it was joined by the Dallas Diamonds and two California teams. Dallas finished last in its division in its inaugural season and had to rely on other clubs in the league to assist it financially, but in its second year its fortunes brightened with the acquisition of Nancy Lieberman, a former player at Old Dominion University, which won three national championships while she played there, and a recognized star in collegiate women's basketball. After Lieberman joined, Dallas won twenty-seven games in 1980–81 compared to seven the previous year. Despite the infusion of such stars, the WBL faced several severe obstacles. Each year saw some teams fold, attendance never averaged more than 1,500, and salaries averaged only around $11,000 a year, though some, such as Lieberman, were paid up to $100,000 per year. Media support for the WBL was never strong, with only the Chicago Hustle having a contract for regular television coverage. While the game itself was played very similarly to men's (the only difference being that the women played with a slightly smaller ball) and was thus a vast improvement over the once-common women's game of six players on a half-court, there were elements within the WBL that demonstrated that traditional attitudes toward women still prevailed. With league ownership and coaching completely in the hands of men, no significant places of leadership off-court developed for women in the WBL. Many players also resented league encouragement to attend charm school and receive instructions on wearing make-up. Thus, despite its existence at a time when enactment of national Title IX of the educational amendments of 1972 provisions was increasing the pool of girls and women participating in high school and college sports and at a time when women's professional tennis was more popular than men's, the WBL still found itself with only three teams remaining in operation in 1981 and by 1982 had disbanded. Houston played through 1980, and the Dallas franchise, with its star Lieberman, lasted until the end of the WBL. Despite their lack of longevity, the Texas teams in the WBL established a loyal, if small, following and received regular, if limited, media coverage. They represented the second effort at professional team sports for women in the state, following the National Women's Football League in the early 1970s. Another women's professional basketball league with Texas teams was formed in 1984. Nancy Lieberman was the number one draft choice of the Dallas Diamonds of the Women's American Basketball Association, signing for $250,000 and leading Dallas to the league title. The WABA folded after one season.

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Dallas Morning News, May 10, 1980. Allen Guttmann, Women's Sports: A History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). Houston Post, March 11, May 2, 1979, March 1, 1980. Nancy Lieberman-Cline, Lady Magic: The Autobiography of Nancy Lieberman-Cline (Champaign, Illinois: Sagamore, 1992).

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Basketball)
  • Organizations
  • Agencies
  • Women
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Houston
  • North Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Women's Basketball League,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/womens-basketball-league.

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January 1, 1996
July 27, 2017

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