It’s January. There’s not a ton of WNBA news at the moment and there won’t be any player movement for a few more weeks. So, while updating my Indiana Fever media guide and with the indirect help of women’s basketball guru Mel Greenberg, I took a trip down memory lane.
Expanding the biographical details of our new head coach, Pokey Chatman, I stumbled upon a fun fact: Remarkably, Pokey Chatman and I have crossed paths before – even before she became a coach.
She grew up in the Bayou and attended Louisiana State. I grew up in Denver and attended college in California. I took my first job in Las Vegas, a young and aspiring assistant sports information director. My primary assignments were with women’s basketball, swimming and, my lifelong passion, baseball. The Rebels were typically very good at the time, nationally ranked in most sports during the era of Jerry Tarkanian.
As I researched Chatman’s 20 years spent in Baton Rouge, I noticed her first season as a player coincided with my first year at UNLV. “Hey, didn’t we take a road trip to LSU?,” I asked myself?
And so what does any good SID do? Look up the facts.
Indeed, in my first road trip with my first team in my first real job, the UNLV Lady Rebels battled with Chatman’s team in Baton Rouge. The Lady Rebs were at LSU on Dec. 5, 1987, and two nights later at No. 5-ranked Louisiana Tech, then a women’s basketball powerhouse. UNLV opened its season with a fourth straight win, beating LSU 74-70, in what was the first loss of point guard Chatman’s college playing career.
She finished the rest of her playing career 78-37 with four trips to the NCAA Tournament, so she bounced back nicely from that first freshman defeat.
Sure, it was a fun memory, recalling an ironic past with my new head coach. But what I gleaned from that trip down memory lane is that one of our country’s most veteran women’s basketball writers is largely responsible for that memory taking shape.
He didn’t cover the game. He may never have covered any Lady Rebels game and he likely never wrote Chatman’s name until later in her career. But he helped put women’s basketball on the map.
UNLV had been ranked as high as No. 5 in AP polls earlier in the 1980s, but my first Lady Rebels team debuted at No. 19 the week following our win at LSU. It was the first time I had covered a nationally ranked basketball team. I had begun speaking regularly with Mel Greenberg, then with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Associated Press, who dedicated himself to women’s hoops.
There was no ESPN. The Lady Rebels had games broadcast on radio, with me often as the color analyst. I use that term very loosely.
If there was a national basketball story, it likely was written by Mel and disseminated via wire services. If Mel didn’t write it, he knew about it. Or he suggested it. Or he wrote about it next. Mel Greenberg was the pulse of women’s college hoops through the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s.
Mel will turn 70 in April. At 29, he initiated the first AP poll in November 1976, four months after the first Olympic women’s basketball competition and nearly 30 years after the first AP men’s poll in January 1949. He has devoted over 40 years to the sport as its chief print scribe, national publicist, historian and archivist. His current blog, Womhoops Guru, is aptly named. He is effectively retired, but he’s still the guru. He is the Godfather of American women’s basketball and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
Without Mel, our relatively short history of women’s basketball would be significantly shorter – at least lighter and less meaningful. Without Mel, my short stroll down memory lane would have had less substance.
It is now January. There still are four months before the Fever open play at Seattle on May 14. But there are thousands of women’s college players and coaches playing literally hundreds of games each week – dozens of those on regional and national TV networks. There are still more high school girls, and younger girls picking up a basketball in youth leagues, all watching and aspiring for more.
I can’t credit Mel for the success and continued growth of our women’s game. But he’s played a huge part. And I know that my brief stroll – or at least the ability to research that recollection the same as any journalist might have researched a men’s college basketball or football fact – is directly attributable to some of his work.
Special thanks to dalydoseofhoops.blogspot.com for sharing their photo of Mel Greenberg for this article.