Monday, April 6, 2020

Missing March Madness? The Women of Troy is worth watching

You win back to back championships—where do you go from there?

Imagine being the best of the best. You have something to offer people, but there's no place to do the thing that you love. You don't have any options. What can you do?
Today, women in sport are asking different questions than those posed by basketball analyst Doris Burke. While today's athletes wonder when and how they will return to their season and their sport, the USC women's basketball team as chronicled in the HBO film "The Women of Troy" lived through their own trying times and limited reality. For sports fans, all of us who missed March Madness and advocates of women in sport, this program is a must see. Here are but a few reasons why.

The Leading Ladies
I originally watched "The Women of Troy" because I wanted to learn more about Cheryl Miller. Many have said she is the greatest female basketball player of all time. Her talent is not to be underestimated nor does it go unappreciated. She is however, but one of several stars in this show.

Pam and Paula McGee are identical twin sisters. One is outspoken and flamboyant, the other is staid and calm. One will speak and the other will finish her sentence. Without the two of them, Miller doesn't go to USC. 

The McGee's recall that memory. Paula said, "she had verbally committed to UCLA to which I told her 'You'll never win a championship because you got to come through us. You'll be Parade All American, you'll be the number one player in the country but you have only got one problem. You're looking at it'." Pam added,  "We number two in the country. We're trying to do something special." Cheryl responded to her with a question and a noteworthy concern. Pam recalled that exchange. She said, "Y'all two are All-Americans. How are we going to all play together?" to which I said " You can play two years with us or two years against us. It might be your game on Monday. Her game on Tuesday...." 

Though I have mad respect for Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper emerges as the woman I admire the most. Her personal background and journey from Watts to USC, to Italy and beyond, her moxie, talent and honesty add a valuable chapter to this story. One of my favorite moments is when Cooper admits "there was definitely some friction (with Cheryl Miller as her teammate), but there's nothing better than playing with the gifted and most talented player ever to play in women's basketball." 

Her testimony confirms what everyone should know: The Women of Troy didn't win because of just Cheryl Miller. Every great team is comprised of individuals who know their role on the team and love their teammates for their role on it.

This is confirmed in the story shared by Juliette Robinson. She said, "
Cheryl wore number 31. When she came to SC she wanted 31 but I wore number 31. I took my jersey off  and I gave her my number. I said "Let's do this!" I had to wonder how many players would be willing to do that...and if that might not be the recipe toward a winning team.
A Different Era
I read an unsettling truth about Title IX often —although the federal civil rights law increased the opportunities for females in the work place, education and in athletics, an unexpected consequence is a decreased number of female head coaches. Other than Geno, every coach on the sidelines in "The Women of Troy" is female.

This truth was self-evident for every female coach featured in the film is unlike any other. The diversity of race, age, and style is both intriguing and inspiring. I encourage you to name your favorite. Though it's hard for me to ever go against Muffet McGraw— the woman who has the Irish to two national championships—Sonya Hogg, head coach of Louisiana Tech emerges triumphant over the great Pat Summit. How I wish Pat were alive today to defend herself! 

In the Review: HBO’s Women of Troy is a compelling look at the story of Cheryl Miller, USC, and women’s basketball overall Andrew Bucholtz writes, "The Hogg interview is particularly notable for illustrating some of the challenges women’s teams were facing at the time, from her comments on wanting the Louisiana Tech team to be called the Lady Techsters rather than the Bulldogs (so no one would call them bitches) to her remarks on their sleeved uniforms (so no one could see and comment on their bra straps)." 

As a sports fan it was hard not to delight in seeing current Baylor coach Kim Mulkey as a Lady Techster! Mulkey, who played for Hogg said “That lady can sell ice to an Eskimo.” I have a feeling that apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Linda Sharpe, head coach of USC had her team play the toughest schedule they could early in the season so they could  learn from it and compete at a high level. Under Sharp, Miller said, "practice was pure competition every single the point that the games almost seemed easier than the practice."vHard to argue against that philosophy as Sharpe led the women of Troy to back-to-back Championships in 1983 and 1984.

The Women of Troy paints a valuable picture of women's hoops Before Cheryl. I have long believed a director's efforts and decision to include historical footage chronicling the history and development of the game is never in vain. 

This program shows how women in basketball once played exclusively on one side of the court. The assumption was that a full court game was too demanding for a girl. 

Uniforms for both men and women have come a long way. I can't imagine playing basketball in a skirt but that doesn't abhor me in the way it might for some other female athletes. I loved playing tennis in a skirt.

I had no idea that 
1976 was the firs time women's basketball was in the Olympics. Team USA took silver. It should go without saying, when Cheryl played in the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, the US took gold.

Miller: one “bad mother f***er.”
The talented and insightful Doris Burke describes Cheryl Miller with those words. They don't appeal to me; I understand the sentiment but I do not believe they resonate with the spirit of Cheryl Miller. I would use that term to describe an athlete who plays mean and dirty. He or she is indignant and disrespectful to those around them.

Yes, Cheryl is flamboyant in her playing style. She admits "I wasn't just a showboat, I was very good at being a showboat." She said those words with such dignity, I laughed.

If given the chance I would 
describe her as iron. After all, when asked about her brother, NBA Reggie Miller, Cheryl—his older sister says, "He was my best friend. We were just one year apart." She added "Iron sharpens Iron. That's what we did for each other." Looking at the footage of both Millers in action, I believe it.
Cheryl Miller once scored 105 points in a single game. Her high school team defeated their opponent 179-15. I have wondered why that score was even allowed. Maybe her coach wanted to see what she could do. Unfortunately for basketball fans, that fullness of that question never gets answered. Miller, the Trojan's all-time scoring leader, played that one extra pick-up game in an era before ACL surgery was a possibility. (For those who have sustained a serious injury, those words may resonate with you!). Her career and basketball history took a much different turn.

The Bridge Builders
HBO lists "The Women of Troy" as an "illuminating tale of the historic and transcendent USC 1980s women’s basketball team, this film explores how the Cheryl Miller-led Trojans changed women’s basketball forever with their up-tempo style and superior athleticism en route to winning consecutive national championships, and ultimately influencing the establishment of the WNBA."

I would add but one insight, as stated by the Women of Troy. The McGee sisters said "
Our team was special. We were the bridge builders. We laid a bridge for the league, the WNBA to come behind us. We set a standard. We showcased a level of talent everyone wanted to be a part of.  We did our part to give these kids to pursue an opportunity of playing professional basketball." That truth makes this wonderful program worth watching, celebrating and discussing further.
Female coaches, I urge you to share this special with your team. It explores the very best of the dynamics of a female team that worked hard, worked together, understood the role of each part to the whole and made a dream come true.

I can't tell you how many people have told me they miss March Madness. This program isn't a substitute, but I guarantee what you will learn thanks to the work of Allison Ellwood will help you appreciate the game in the future, even that much more.

Photo Credits
The Crew

Cheryl standing 
In the basket
McGee Twins

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