Monday, April 7, 2008


My casino career in Las Vegas started on January 8, 1979, I weighed 185.
For those of you who didn't read my short story, "THE HEAT IS ON," it examines my first craps dealing job at the SLOTS-A-CASINO. My combined wages and tips in that toilet was $150.00 gross and I do mean GROSS!
I toiled there for three months before getting a better job but the habit of eating (gorging myself) at cheap buffets would last an entire year. By the time Christmas rolled around, I tipped the scales at 222 pounds. It was then that women's basketball changed my waistline's life.

I was invited to a friend's house for Christmas dinner. I was taken aside by his wife and encouraged to ask-out her sister, Suzette. Later, I struck up a conversation with her. She told me that she was a basketball player. When she saw my unimpressed expression, Suzette told me that she once scored all her team's points in a game. Her eavesdropping sister was quick to add that she scored the three points in a 27-3 loss.

At a more opportune and private moment, I asked her out. She said, "I don't usually go out with fat guys but I will, if you can beat me in a one-on-one basketball game." I overlooked the insult and remembered while attending Brooklyn College the time when a friend and I were challenged by girls to play basketball. It turned out to be a "touchy-feely" precursor to coupling-off. So with that in mind, I accepted Suzette's proposition.

If my life had depended on it, I never could put a hand on Suzette. In waterbug fashion, she whizzed past me for easy lay-ups or hit uncontested jumpers. In no time, I was laying on my back across the foul-line wheezing for breath when the score was 4-0. Needless to say, she and I never went out. But because of that incident, I went on the greatest diet in my life and lost 44 pounds by April 1st.

I look back at Suzette and that period of my life and wonder, when did women's basketball get to be MEGA? With the NCAA championship basketball game being played tomorrow on national TV, let's look back and trace where big-time women's basketball may have started.

Nestled in Malvern Pennsylvania, tiny Immaculatta College is an all-female Catholic University an hour or so from Philadelphia. In 1972 (and again in '73 and '74), they were the first national champions of women's college basketball.

During the tidal wave of the women's equal rights movement, the Mighty Macs as they were dubbed, went to that first tournament unclear of the format and without knowing that they were playing for a national crown. The backwardness of the times is underscored by the Immaculatta team uniform. It consisted of a white dress blouse under a billowy, skirt-like jumper.
To further illustrate the newness of the concept of women running, jumping, sweating and chasing a basketball, many women's college programs back then were still offering a "girls" half-court version of the game. Among other tweaks in the rules, try to imagine playing basketball with each player restricted to three dribbles at a time.

In addition to the theological angle, The Mighty Macs had a tremendous national following as women sought new ways to break domestic stereotypes and compete in all areas of society. However, most people who recall this phenomena remember the enthusiastic nuns on the sidelines yelling encouragement, rhythmically banging empty 5 gallon plastic buckets with drumsticks and razzing the referees in the name of divine intervention.

Immaculatta's pioneering did so much to put a face on women's college athletics yet because of a technicality (being an all-female institution at the time), they were not provided the funds that 99% of the other female college athletic programs enjoyed. Unable to offer scholarships, top high school recruits went elsewhere...and the Immaculatta dynasty slipped into obscurity.

On Tuesday night in Tampa Florida when Stanford faces Tennessee for the 2008 championship. I hope those involved take a moment to appreciate the roots of women's hoops and how it evolved into a professional sport (WNBA) as well as its explosion into our national consciousness.
And because of Immaculatta and other visionaries, women can now dribble all they want, on and off the court !

No comments: