January 17, 2022
Remembering Queens College and WBL legend Althea Gwyn
Queens College hooper saw the potential of women's professional basketball
The history of women’s basketball is filled with names and stories and legacies that didn’t become household names. Without these founders of the game, the sport we know today would not be the same.
Althea Gwyn, who passed away on Jan. 9, 2022, is one of those founders.
Gwyn played high school ball at Amityville High School on Long Island before enrolling in the Queen’s College women’s basketball program in Queens, NY. In her freshman year, Gwyn played in the first-ever women’s collegiate basketball game at Madison Square Garden. Her talented Queens College squad faced off against perennial favorite Immaculata College on Feb. 22, 1975, in front of a crowd of 11,969 spectators.
A 2013 inductee into the Queens College Athletics Hall of Fame, Gwyn was named an All-American following the 1977-78 season. As a college player, she twice led the nation in rebounding.
Hall-of-Famer Ann Meyers-Drysdale recalls when she first played a scrimmage against Gwyn and Queens College in Poughkeepsie, NY as a member of Team USA.
“She was an intense player. She played hard,” Meyers-Drysdale told The Next. “She was imposing and intimidating, but there was also a sense that she was having fun out there. She really enjoyed the game.”
Pro hoop dreams
The Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) tipped off in 1978 as the first professional women’s basketball league in the United States. The league emerged at the tail end of a decade that included the landmark passage of Title IX (1972) and the debut of women’s basketball as an Olympic sport at the 1976 Summer Olympics.
Gwyn renounced her eligibility for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team tryouts in favor of joining the new professional sports league. In July 1978, Gwyn was drafted by her home-state New York Stars.
“Pro ball is just as important as the Olympics,” Gwyn declared.
On this day in 1978: The Women’s Professional Basketball League played its first game – a matchup between the Chicago Hustle and the Milwaukee Does. The league lasted from 1978-1981. Now, let’s take a look at some of the #blacksportswomen who played in the league ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/JhWbJIMMuF— The Black Sportswoman (@blacksportwoman) December 9, 2020
Gwyn played for the Stars and the New England Gulls during her tenure with the league. As a member of the league looking to locate women’s basketball to a more elevated profile, Gwyn fought hard both on and off the court.
As a member of the Gulls, Gwyn and her teammates refused to play in protest of not getting paid by team ownership. Althea and teammates ran off the court protesting “no pay, no play.” The Gulls franchise would eventually fold when the franchise could not meet players’ basic demands for payment. She not only transformed the game with her physical, intimidating post presence. But also with her willingness to advocate for labor rights for the woman athlete.
Before ESPN regularly aired women’s basketball, and nearly two decades before the WNBA, hoopers like Althea constructed the foundation of women’s basketball. Gwyn and other top players in her era navigated through the sport’s trials and tribulations as well as its unprecedented heights in the 1970s. Despite their tremendous impact on the game, players from this era aren’t often recognized.
“Althea Gwyn’s not talked about…I don’t really hear any of the announcers talk about some of the players from the ’70s. You know, Cheryl Miller or Pam or Paula McGee or which guards were great from that era,” Meyers-Drysdale said.
Althea had an invaluable impact on the legacy of women’s collegiate and professional basketball in the United States. For these accomplishments, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame recognized Althea as a Trailblazer of the Game in 2018. Following her passing earlier this month, the women’s basketball community celebrates her life and innumerable contributions to the game we love.