Inaugural Ballers: The True Story of the First US ­Women’s Olympic Basketball Team

­Viking. Sept. 2022. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593351246.
Gr 8 Up–A winning look at the creation and legacy of a team that went from underdogs to unstoppable. Maraniss places the 1976 groundbreaking first American women’s Olympic basketball team firmly in historical and political context, following the rise of basketball from its inception to the fluctuations of its popularity for women throughout the 1900s (corresponding to social norms about what was acceptably “ladylike”) to the backlash, detractors, and misogyny that marked the Olympic team’s rise to success. He keeps a close eye on the issues of politics and equity, the work and “whiteness” of second-wave feminism, Title IX, and important moments in civil rights movements. Interspersed throughout are biographies of pioneering women’s players and visionary coaches working with no road map and big dreams. Most of these players, from small towns with struggling and underfunded basketball teams, faced seemingly insurmountable adversity, both as women and, for many of the players, as Black women. Perceptions and observations about their lives and their travels around the world illustrate these obstacles and the profound impact the players’ tenacity would have on women’s sports. Maraniss, a master of narrative nonfiction, creates an immersive and emotional story. The book is full of quotes from interviews and contains an abundance of black-and-white photographs. Back matter includes footnotes that add context and details, a list of interviews, bibliography, rosters, scores, a medal table, Olympic jersey numbers, and notable moments in U.S. women’s sports history.
VERDICT An inspirational look at remarkable athletes breaking boundaries. An exceptional read and an essential purchase.

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