December 17, 2022
Remembering Billie Moore, Title IX advocate and icon
'She was a quiet [icon]. She led by example. And she always cared for other people'
Legendary head coach Billie Moore, who coached the first ever U.S. women’s basketball Olympic team in 1976, died this week surrounded by friends and family. Moore had been in hospice care after a battle with cancer; she was 79 years old.
Moore was born in Humansville, Missouri in 1943. Following in the footsteps of her father, who was a basketball coach, Moore began coaching as a graduate assistant at Southern Illinois while completing her master’s degree. Prior to the 1969-70 season, at the age of 26, Moore assumed head coaching responsibilities at Cal State Fullerton. As head coach, Moore won the AIAW (then the CIAW) title in her first season (1970).
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As one of the top coaches in the nation, Moore was named head coach of the U.S. women’s national team for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The team would earn a silver medal, exceeding expectations for the U.S. national team at the time.
That 1976 team, which included legends such as (using their names at the time) Lusia Harris, Trish Roberts, Ann Meyers, Pat Head, Gail Marquis, Juliene Brazinski and Nancy Lieberman, built the foundation for women’s professional basketball in America. The first women’s professional league, the WBL, started in 1978, shortly after the national team’s run in Montreal.
After a successful stint at the international level, Moore took the reins as head coach of the UCLA Bruins prior to the 1977-78 season. Again, in her first season as head coach of a program, she won the AIAW national title (1978). As coach of the Bruins from 1977 to 1993, Moore became the winningest coach in program history, a feat that still stands in the UCLA record books today.
Moore is remembered by countless former players, coaching peers and friends. Those close to her reveal her quiet yet mighty presence in the women’s basketball space.
Brazinski, who served as co-captain and point guard on the 1976 Olympic team, shared her experiences with Moore as part of the U.S. national team. At first, Moore cut Brazinski from the team, something that Brazinski chalks up to being “a little cocky” at the time.
Moore didn’t give up on Brazinski, though, and eventually she was brought back to the team as co-captain, both as part of the 1975 Pan American Games and then the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
“One time, Lucy Harris had to keep running, and everybody else made the time but her. And so when she had to [run] by herself, I just hopped up. And I started to run with her. I think [Pat Head (Summitt)] might have joined in as well, but I was like, ‘She can’t run this herself.’ And after that practice, we were going back to the dorm or whatever; [Billie] just slowly walked next to me and said, ‘I saw that and she needed it.'”Juliene Brazinski
Meyers remembers that her relationship with Moore was a bit “abrasive” at first, but that ultimately Moore pushed her players so they could reach their potential:
“The one thing that was really impressive about [Billie] was the fact that she understood personality. She understood how to motivate somebody who had to be motivated a different way than somebody else. Putting players in positions of success — she knew all our levels of skill and how to get the best out of them.”Ann Meyers
Moore’s former players saw her as an advocate of Title IX, even if sometimes she wasn’t the loudest representative. By doing what she did as a leader in women’s athletics, she embodied the essence of the ground-breaking legislation:
“Whether she talked about Title IX, I don’t think she had to; she lived it. [She] was very much an advocate of supporting women’s sports and women’s basketball and going to rotary clubs and making speeches … And, I mean, people would listen to Billie.”Ann Meyers
Especially in an era when women’s sports was not even a blip on the radar of major media organizations and the country was still reckoning with what it meant for women to be in athletics, Moore’s story was not often front and center.
“Billie was an amazing human being. She set high standards for herself, and she taught me and so many others to do the same thing. I think the other thing that stands out so much [is] I admire her integrity as a coach and just in life in general. I think about her being an icon. She was a quiet one. She led by example. And she always cared for other people.”Juliene Brazinski
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As a college basketball player at N.C. State in the 1980s, Debbie Antonelli looked to Moore as a prominent figure in the sport. When Antonelli transitioned to a broadcasting career later in life, she saw Moore often and sought out her wisdom and guidance. Over the years, a strong friendship developed between the two women.
“We played a lot of golf. And she was such a strong figure in our game that I felt compelled to be buttoned up when I was around her because I had so much respect for her and I knew how much she respected the game. So I wanted to do right by Billie, if you will. And then the stories that I have … center around the golf course. I’d love to say this. This used to drive Billie nuts, but I can say that I am undefeated in Knoxville — Mickie DeMoss and I were always teammates against Pat [Summitt] and Billie, and I believe Mickie and I are 8-0. And when we would play golf against them, it was so competitive and so fun. And you know how much Pat hated to lose; well, Billie hated to lose equally as much or more so. It made for some really fun trash talking on the golf course, which I immensely enjoy.”Debbie Antonelli
Former players describe a relationship with Moore that evolved into a friendship over time. Her willingness to listen, her willingness to share her knowledge with others and her quiet strength were sources of comfort and support to her friends and colleagues over the years. Moore’s legacy lives on through those she had relationships with and the lives she shaped on and off of the basketball court.
While Brazinski expects a private family ceremony in memory of her former coach, she knows there will be a larger celebration of life down the road with more loved ones and friends. She doesn’t know the details yet, but she knows one thing for sure:
“They’ll need a big place. There’ll be a lot of people that will want to pay tribute to her.”
Written by Tee Baker
Tee is a women's basketball reporter and historian. At "The Next" Tee covers the BIG EAST conference and contributes articles and media featuring the WBL, the first professional women's basketball league in the United States.