The internet has been buzzing about women’s basketball because this year’s March Madness included some iconic showdowns. Standout performances led by Angel Reese, Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston helped generate record TV viewership numbers.

Houston Comets players Tina Thompson, left, Sheryl Swoopes, center, and Cynthia Cooper hoist the Comets’ championship trophies during a rally after a parade honoring the three-time WNBA champions in Houston on Sept. 8, 1999. The Comets made a comeback and took Game 3 for their third consecutive championship Sept. 5, 1999. Brett Coomer/Associated Press, File

I heard a couple of men on sports talk radio discussing the women’s NCAA tournament after the South Carolina-Iowa Final Four game.

The analysts were trying to make the point that the Boston-Clark matchup was unlike anything fans had ever seen before.

With respect to the talented players of 2023, I beg to differ.

Yes, these players are smashing records and continuing to elevate the game. But records are made to be broken, and women’s basketball has been filled with amazing feats.

Joanne Lannin of Gorham (who wrote sports and features for the Portland Press Herald for 23 years) provides an overview of the progression of the sport in her book “A History of Basketball for Girls and Women: From Bloomers to Big Leagues.” Women began playing basketball within a month of its invention in 1891, but it’s been an uphill battle to gain recognition and respect ever since.


Lannin writes that in the early 1900s, “complaints were growing that the game had become too rough and freewheeling.” A Los Angeles Times article described a local high school game: “There was something disquieting in the grim and murderous determination with which young ladies chased each other over the court.”

Years passed, rules were established and then changed. Extraordinary players emerged.

One such example was Stella Waterman, who rose to prominence in the late 1940s. She grew up on a dairy farm in New Gloucester, learning to shoot with a bushel basket tacked up inside a cow barn. By her senior year of high school, her team was winning by vast margins like 102-42. She scored more than 60 points on two different occasions and averaged almost 40 points a game.

As for showmanship, before Clark and Reese flashed the “You can’t see me” hand gesture this year, Cynthia Cooper was “raising the roof.” Google it.

Cooper, along with Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, were “The Big Three” of the Houston Comets, who captured the WNBA’s first four championships.

Those seasons were filled with dramatic and emotional games, like Sept. 4, 1999, when Teresa Weatherspoon of the New York Liberty sunk a buzzer-beater from half court in the second game of the WNBA Finals. The miracle moment was referred to as “The Shot.” YouTube it.


The next day, the Comets came back and won the series, dedicating their third championship to teammate Kim Perrot, who died of cancer that year.

As confetti floated down, Cooper raised Perrot’s No. 10 jersey into the air while the crowd cheered “Three for 10.”

The creation of the WNBA continued to elevate college hoops. More new stars emerged – Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Maya Moore and Sabrina Ionescu, to name a few.

To those sports talk radio men who feel there has never been a more momentous matchup than this spring, I have to say: Yes, there have been plenty.

Before Kim Mulkey claimed her fourth national title as head coach, Pat Summitt earned eight and Geno Auriemma collected 11.

Go back to game tape and watch Ticha Penicheiro dish out assists or watch Lisa Leslie hit the glass for rebounds or watch Cheryl Miller drive to the hoop (Miller once scored 105 points in a 1982 high school game).


Stream ESPN’s “Dream On” and learn about the challenges the 1996 women’s Olympic team had to endure to gain buy-in so a professional league could be formed.

There have been no-look passes and behind-the-back dribbles and, yes, there have even been dunks.

The first women’s NCAA college basketball player to dunk was Georgeann Wells of West Virginia, who threw down a jam against the University of Charleston in 1984.

It’s OK if you’re new to the party. But this dance has been going on for a while.

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