Thursday, June 8, 2017

Early Women's Basketball - and a Surprising Precursor to the NBA Logo

The NBA logo is one of the most recognizable logos in American sports.   

Silhouetted against a background of vertical red and blue bars, a long, lean, athletic body leans in as it slashes toward the basket, arm extended, protecting the ball.

The logo is famously based an image of Jerry West in his yellow tank-top, white socks and short hair, as he pushes off his inside foot and lifts his outside knee, as he drives the ball toward the basket. 

Curiously, a magazine cover from the early 1930s presaged West’s iconic image and the logo, adopted by the NBA in 1969, by nearly forty years – except it was a girl – and she was preparing to shoot rather than dribble.

Physical Culture, Volume 67, Number 4, April 1932.

The image mirrors West and the logo in almost every respect; from the yellow tank-top, white socks and short hair, to the curve of the body, position of the trailing leg and leading knee, extension of the arm, and color scheme of the logo.

If the WNBA is looking for anew logo – this might be an improvement.

And if the WNBA wants a logo with even more action, they might look to an image of one of the earliest (if not the earliest) women's college basketball games ever played. 

San Francisco Morning Call, November 19, 1892, page 2.

In November 1892, less than a year after James Naismith invented the game at the Springfield, Massachusetts YMCA, UC Berkeley's "best-looking 'co-eds'" challenged the "pretty little maids" of "Miss Head's fashionable seminary," to a game of "the latest Eastern fad called 'Basket-ball.'"

The game was a lot rougher back then – and sexier too, apparently, or so it seemed to the male reporter who clandestinely watched the girls-only affair.  In places, his account of the game reads more like soft-core porn than a sports report:

San Francisco Morning Call, November 19, 1892, page 2.

Nine of the best-looking “co-eds” are limping about the State University grounds covered all over with bruises, and nine pretty little maids, covered all over with glory are wasting their pin money on arnica and court plaster in Miss Head’s fashionable seminary in Berkeley.

Mr. Magee, the instructor in physical culture, is responsible for it all, for it was he who, at an unguarded moment, introduced to his fair lady pupils the latest Eastern fad called “Basket-ball.”

The Berkeley students of the girl kind are fin de siecle and eagerly grasp every opportunity to be in the swim.

Besides the great fuss the University boys have of late been making about their prowess on the football field has been galling to the girls, and they have got into the habit of shrugging their shapely shoulders and turning up their little noses with an air of superiority whenever some hero of a scrimmage, a run or a touchdown boasted of his deeds.

The co-eds were just dying for a chance to show that they were as nimble and as athletic as any sophomore that ever wore a plug hat.

Instructor Magee innocently gave the girls that long hoped for chance when he arranged two clothesbaskets, one on each end of the gymnasium, the other day.

He produced a leather ball weighing  about six pounds, and divided his fair pupils in physical culture into two teams of nine each.

“Now, ladies, the game is called basket-ball and consists in one nine trying to put the ball into one of these baskets and the other crew doing everything possible to prevent the accomplishment of the feat.

“The side that succeeds in basketing the ball the greatest number of times is the winner.

It all looked very simple at first, and the demure little damsels quietly and lamblike picked up that leather sphere and landed it easily home.

But there was a merry and mischievous glitter in many of the lustrous eyes of the Berkeley beauties as they listened to the instructions of Mr. Magee.

With the keen perception so often noted in the female mind, the girls scented an opportunity for glorious for great fun and chances to outdo the boasting football players of the other sex. 

They never said a word, but like the cunning little minxes they were they held some secret meetings and formed a team of nine of the most athletic and nimble kickers among the university co-eds.

Then they sent a challenge to the girls of Miss Head’s seminary, who had also learned all about basket-ball from Mr. Magee. . . . 

A match game was quickly arranged and yesterday was the day they played.

I saw the game and am awfully glad I did.

Such an aggregation of female loveliness and such a liberal display of the human form divine I had never hoped to be allowed to witness.

It was grand, gorgeous, bewildering, immense, in fact “out of sight.”

Imagine the scene, the gymnasium of the University of California.

On one end of the big hall nine of the handsomest, best shaped, loveliest co-eds in the whole world.

They were dressed, or costumed, in blue bathing-suits with gold ribbons.

At least I, in my ignorance, thought they were bathing-suits, but somebody told me since that they were gymnasium costumes.

Well, I don’t care what they call them, I wish all girls I know would never wear any other costume, for they beat all the fashions I ever saw.

At the other end of the gymnasium were nine cute little misses similarly attired.

They were small and short, but – oh my!

Never mind, I am not going to give away all I saw.

Pretty soon the game commenced.

The co-eds won the toss and got the ball first.

They all got together into a bunch and tried to hustle that ball into their basket, but the Head girls were on the alert and threw themselves in a body against the enemy.

There was a scrimmage and I almost betrayed my presence by the eagerness with which I watched the proceedings, for I nearly yelled with delight when I saw these eighteen pairs of shapely feet kicking at each other and at that ball, and these eighteen divinely formed maidens wrestle and struggle with each other like Roman gladiators in an arena. . . .

The captain, who was called “Jennie,” was a perfect wonder.

She was here, there and everywhere, stepping and jumping over and on top of everybody, having no eyes or feeling for anything but that leather ball and that basket.

Like a perfect little fury, Jenny, with disheveled hair and disordered wardrobe, fought, scratched and kicked until that ball was safely inside of that basket, and the Head nine had scored one.

Then came a short pause, hairpins were brought into requisition, and damages to the bathing-suits were temporarily repaired.

For, although there was no male person supposed to be in the gymnasium or near by, the girls found it necessary to cover up some places in their costumes, where during the rough and tumble little pink flesh spots had made their appearance, peeping through rents and tears in the blue tights.

“Oh, isn’t this lovely?” a blue-eyed dreaming blonde “co-ed” cried, with her eyes dancing with fun, as she pulled up one of her long stockings and tied it to the trunk of her suit.

“It beats anything we ever had,” answered a dark-eyed beauty, whose long hair had become loosened and was hanging luxuriously over her shoulders.

“Time for the second round,” shouted somebody, and there was a big scramble for position at once.

This time the Head girls started off and pretty soon the whole crowd was in a bunch again right in the middle of the hall, yelling, screeching, fighting and scratching away like eighteen little demons.

But the “co-eds” were on their mettle, and they finally after a severe and protracted scrimmage got the ball into their basket.

Then there was another pause and the girls looked more lovely than ever as their faces became more flushed with the excitement of the sport.

More repairs and another “try” followed.

With various luck the score stood 4 to 4 after the eighth struggle, and my favorites, the little ones from the Head Seminary, who were called the “Kids” by the lofty co-eds, came out winners by landing the ball in a splendid manner.

All the fair athletes were nearly exhausted, and it was absolutely impossible to find a single girl among them which did not have numerous bruises or had not sustained some slight injury.

But, oh, how happy were they all.

“Now we have  a game that beats their old football all to pieces,” they said, as they painfully filed out of that gymnasium, wrapped in cloaks to hide their torn costumes and shapely figures from the masculine eyes, for there was a company of students drilling on the campus.

By the way, that company had an inkling of what was going on in the gymnasium and surrounded that institution with the picket-line of sentries, while the basketball game was in progress.

Evening Star, August 29, 1913, page 10.

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