American basketball player
Considered one of basketball's greatest female players, Lynette Woodard excelled in the sport during her professional career in the 1980s and 1990s. A two-time Olympic Game basketball player, Woodard served as co-captain of the United States' gold medal team in 1984. She became the first female member of the famed
Harlem Globetrotters in 1985, and was named Big Eight Player of the Decade for the 1980s. In 1996 Woodard was named best female player in Big Eight Conference history, having set career records for scoring and rebounding. After a four-year retirement in the mid-1990s, Woodard returned to join the new Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), playing for the Cleveland Rockers and the Detroit Shock. A worldwide basketball star, Woodard is known equally well in her native United States as in Italy and Japan, where she has also played professionally.
Born on August 12, 1959, in Wichita, Kansas, Lynette Woodard was one of four children born to Lugene, a fireman, and Dorothy, a homemaker. When Woodard was five years old, a U.S. Air Force jet crashed in her neighborhood, killing 30 residents and just missing the Woodard house. By 1970 an area of destroyed homes had been transformed from a vacant lot into a public park with a full-size basketball court. This was Piatt Park, where Woodard developed her talent for the sport. "We played pick-up games every day," she told the New York Times. "Soon the guys would pick me before their friends."
Woodard's fascination with basketball had begun when she was eight years old, when her cousin Hubert "Geese" Ausbie, a player with the Harlem Globetrotters, paid a visit during a tour. Ausbie mesmerized his young cousin, spinning a basketball on his finger and demonstrating other signature 'Trotters skills. Woodard never dreamed then that she would one day join the Globetrotters, which was then an all-male team. With her older brother, Darrell, Woodard played "sockball" around their house, shooting rolled-up socks over open doors and using a timer on the stove as a game clock. "We used to play all kinds of games and pretend it was the Olympics," Darrell told Liz Robbins of the Plain Dealer. "Two pieces of candy would be the gold medal. Lynette would always win. I knew then she was ready for the Olympics."
Set Records in University Basketball
As a tenth grader, Woodard joined the varsity basketball team at Wichita North High School, leading her school to the state championships in 1975 and 1977. Also in 1977 she was named an All-American high school athlete. In just 62 high school games she had scored 1,678 points and collected 1,030 rebounds.
Woodard attended Kansas University, where she dominated women's basketball, setting national and school records that she still holds today. The highest scorer in university women's basketball, Woodard amassed a total of 3,649 points. She also tops the university charts in career field goals (1,572) and field goal attempts (2,994). Woodard was a four-time Kodak All-American college athlete and a two-time Academic All-American player. She also excelled academically, making the dean's list and majoring in speech communication.
When Woodard graduated in 1981, professional opportunities for female basketball players were few and far between. She had made the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, but a boycott had prevented the team from participating. Instead she went on to play professionally in Italy, relocating to the northern town of Schio. During the 1981-1982 season she was the only English-speaking player on her team. Since there was no language school in the town, Woodard struggled to communicate and was often left to fend for herself. "I thought when I first got there, 'Lord, what have I done,'" she told Malcolm Moran of the New York Times. But the experience ultimately strengthened her character. "I think it really helped me grow as a person," she said. Woodard returned to the United States to coach at her alma mater and to train with the 1984 Olympic team, which she co-captained. At the Games in Los Angeles, she led her team to a gold-medal victory.
Over the years, Woodard had kept in touch with her Globetrotter cousin, and had asked him if the team would consider taking women. The answer was always no—until 1985, when an advertisement in USA Today announced tryouts for a female player. "I got chills," Woodard recalled to Robbins of the Plain Dealer. "I just shook my head, and I said: 'It's me, I know it's me.'" When Woodard showed up for the tryouts, the Globe-trotters knew she was the one, too. She joined the Hollywood-based team as its first female player in October of 1985, when she was 26 years old.
Woodard toured with the Globetrotters for two years. It wasn't long before she made it to the team's Magic Circle, where chosen players dribble to the beat of "Sweet Georgia Brown." When the team's management changed after her second year, however, she parted ways with the Globetrotters. In recognition of her historical contribution, the team presented her with a "Legends" ring in 1996. The ring has been given to only eight players in the team's 70-year history.
With few opportunities in the United States, Woodard returned to play in Italy, and then in Japan. She became fluent in both languages, and gained a following in both countries. Woodard played professionally in Japan's basketball circuit for three seasons (1990-1993).
|1959||Born on August 12 in Wichita, Kansas|
|1978-81||Dominates women's basketball, University of Kansas|
|1981||Becomes women's university basketball's highest scorer, with 3,649 points|
|1981-82||Plays professional women's basketball in Italy|
|1982-84||Trains with U.S. Olympic women's basketball team|
|1984||Co-captains Olympic team|
|1985||Becomes first female Harlem Globetrotter|
|1990-93||Plays professional women's basketball in Japan|
|1993||Becomes Kansas City's first district athletic director|
|1995||Becomes a registered stockbroker on Wall Street|
|1997||Joins Cleveland Rockers (WNBA)|
|1998||Joins Detroit Shock (WNBA)|
|1999||Retires from basketball|
|1999||Becomes assistant women's basketball coach at University of Kansas|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1977||Named All-American high school athlete|
|1978-81||Named All-American athlete, University of Kansas|
|1981||Awarded Wade Trophy|
|1982||Won NCAA Top Five Award|
|1984||As co-captain, led U.S. Olympic women's basketball team to gold medal victory|
|1989||Inducted into National High School Hall of Fame|
|1989||Named Big Eight Player of the Decade (1980s)|
|1993||Won Flo Hyman Award|
|1996||Awarded Globetrotters "Legends" ring|
|1996||Named best female player in Big Eight Conference history|
In 1993 Woodard returned to her home state to accept a position as Kansas City's first district athletic director. Through this position she met stockbroker Pat Winans, who was handling the district's retirement fund. Winans, who had started her own Wall Street brokerage firm, took an instant liking to Woodard and offered her a job at Magna Securities Corp. Woodard relocated to New York City and became a registered stockbroker in the spring of 1995.
Yet Woodard was not entirely finished with basketball. When the new Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) was created in 1996, Woodard came out of retirement at age 37 to play for the Cleveland Rockers in the first season (1997). She didn't quit her Wall Street job, which was bringing in an annual salary of nearly $250,000. Instead, she worked out in the early mornings before work, and took leave from the office to practice and play. Her position on the team brought in a salary of $40,000. In 1998 Woodard left the Rockers to join the Detroit Shock. She played one more year of professional basketball, retiring for the second time in May of 1999, four months shy of her 40th birthday.
Woodard is an assistant coach for the Jayhawks, the women's basketball team of her alma mater, the University of Kansas (KU). Prior to becoming assistant coach, Woodard served for one year as KU's special assistant for external relations and women's basketball, where her job was to enhance and build community and alumni relations. She became assistant coach in May 1999; her responsibilities include helping with practice sessions and scouting and recruiting student-athletes. Woodard has also continued working in finance, holding a position as an independent representative of Primerica Financial. She will become eligible for induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004.
|CLE: Cleveland Rockers; DET: Detroit Shock.|
Woodard will be remembered not only for her basketball prowess but also for her winning temperament. "She is a wonderful soul," University of Kansas women's basketball coach Marian Washington told Robbins of the Plain Dealer. "She is so pure at heart that anyone who gets to know her, they are touched by her."
"A Disappointing Game for Miss Woodard." New York Times (December 20, 1980): 20.
Moran, Malcolm. "Olympic Profile: Lynette Woodard Now a Role Player." New York Times (July 27, 1984): A18.
Robbins, Liz. "Hoops, There She Is." Plain Dealer (June 19, 1997): 1A.
Vecsey, George. "The Newest Globetrotter." New York Times (October 13, 1985): 3.
"Harlem Globetrotters Legends: Lynette Woodard." HarlemGlobetrotters.com. http://harlemglobetrotters.com/history/leg-woodard.php (November 13, 2002).
"Lynette Woodard." Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. http://www.kshof.org/inductees/woodard.html (November 13, 2002).
"Lynette Woodard Reached for the Hoops in Kansas." Kansas State Historical Society. http://www.kshs.org/people/woodard.htm (November 13, 2002).
"Lynette Woodard." University of Kansas Athletics. http://www.kuathletics.com/womensbasketball/coaches/woodard.html (November 13, 2002).
"1997 Rockers Regular Season Statistics." WNBA.com. http://www.wnba.com/rockers/stats/stats_1997.html (November 30, 2002).
"1998 Shock Regular Season Statistics." WNBA.com. http://www.wnba.com/shock/stats/stats_1998.html (November 30, 2002).
Sketch by Wendy Kagan
Lynette Woodard is an American basketball player who won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 and became the first woman to play with the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters. A high school and college star in Kansas during the 1970s and early 1980s, she played professionally in Europe and Asia before joining the inaugural season of the Women's National Basketball Association in 1997. As of 2008 Woodard had scored more points during her career than any other female player, and her dynamic, groundbreaking career remained an inspiration to many aspiring female athletes.
Woodard was born in Wichita, Kansas, on August 12, 1959, the youngest of four children born to Lugene and Dorothy Woodard. The Woodards were devout Baptists and raised their children to share their faith.
Woodard was introduced to basketball by her older brother, and she practiced playing in her bedroom by creating homemade balls of paper or rolled-up socks. She took part in pick-up games in Piatt Park, across the street from her home, holding her own against the neighborhood boys. She was also inspired to become a ballplayer by her cousin Hubie "Geese" Ausbie, who was a member of the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition team from 1960 until 1984. The Globetrotters, an all-black basketball team that toured nationally and internationally, presented a unique combination of entertainment and sports, with players using their considerable athletic skill to perform comic antics. When Ausbie visited, Woodard would learn techniques and tricks of ball-handling from him that improved her game.
Set Records in College Basketball
By the time she attended Wichita North High School, Woodard was a basketball star in her own right. She was a strong and flexible player who could perform well in any position, but she usually played forward. Woodard's hard-driving, high scoring game helped her high school team win two state championships. In her senior year, she was named to the all-American high school team and was courted by several colleges and universities. Even with a number of respected schools to choose from, Woodard decided to remain in her home state. She chose to attend the University of Kansas (KU), citing her admiration for Marian Washington, the women's basketball coach there.
As a Lady Jayhawk, Woodard continued her strong performance on the court, leading her team to three straight Big Eight championships. During her four-year career, she broke twenty-four school athletic records, earning the title for most rebounds in the nation during her freshman year. By graduation she had amassed 3,649 career points, more than any other female player in the United States and only eighteen points less than Louisiana State University player Pete Maravich, who held the men's scoring record. Woodard averaged almost twenty-seven points and twelve rebounds per game, an exceptional record that prompted the university to retire her number 31 jersey upon her graduation.
While Woodard was a dynamo on the basketball court, she did not neglect her studies. Along with earning the title of Kodak All-American four years in a row for her athletic achievement, she was also an academic all-American, making the dean's list and maintaining a 3.04 grade average. She graduated from KU in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in speech communications.
Played Professionally in Europe
While still in college Woodard began playing in international tournaments, traveling to the Soviet Union in 1979, where she helped the U.S. women's team win a gold medal in the World University Games. In 1980 Woodard earned a place on the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team. This achievement was dimmed, however, when the United States boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games because of political differences with the Soviet Union. She was also part of the U.S. team that captured the gold in the 1983 Pan Am Games in Caracas, Venezuela.
Because there were no professional basketball teams for women in the United States before the late 1990s, many promising female college players moved to Europe and Asia to continue their basketball careers. Woodard took a job in the Italian women's professional basketball league. Though she was top scorer in the Italian league in 1982, Woodard found living abroad difficult at first. The only American as well as the only English-speaker on her team, she felt isolated, unable even to understand television. However, she took steps to improve her situation. She studied Italian, beginning with the basketball and food terms she needed for day-to-day life, and she reached out to make friends among her teammates.
In 1983 Woodard returned to the United States to make another attempt at the Olympics. This time she not only made the team, but became its captain, and the U.S. women's team won the gold medal in the Los Angeles summer games in 1984.
Joined the Harlem Globetrotters
Following her 1984 Olympic triumph, Woodard had a chance to make a childhood dream come true. She heard that the Harlem Globetrotters, anxious to update their image and win back African-American fans who had grown weary of the team's increasingly comic image, were planning to add a female member to the team. Though the team had a reputation for clowning, all of the Globetrotters were skilled professional ballplayers, and Woodard knew that playing with them would be demanding. She put herself through a challenging training routine to prepare for tryouts, and, in 1985, she was chosen from a group of ten women applicants to be the first female Harlem Globetrotter.
Her male teammates were not altogether happy about their management's decision to add a woman to the lineup, but Woodard soon proved that she was a serious and determined player. She became an accepted member of the team, traveling with the Globetrotters for two years and playing as many as 185 games in a single year.
In 1987 Woodard decided to leave the Globetrotters and return to professional play abroad. She played two more seasons in Italy, helping her team to the Italian league championships in 1989, then went to Japan, where she played for the Daina Securities team from 1990 to 1993, winning the division championship in 1992.
At a Glance …
Born August 12, 1959, in Wichita, KS; daughter of Lugene Woodard (a firefighter) and Dorothy Woodard (a homemaker). Religion: Baptist. Education: University of Kansas, BA, speech communications, 1981.
Career: U.S. Olympic women's basketball team member, 1980, captain, 1984; Italian professional basketball league player, 1981-83, 1987-89; Harlem Globetrotters team member, 1985-87; Japanese professional basketball league player, 1990-93; Kansas City, MO, School District, athletic director, 1993-95; Women's National Basketball Association, Cleveland Rockers team member, 1997-98; Detroit Shock team member, 1998-99; University of Kansas women's basketball team, assistant coach, 1999-2003, interim head coach, 2004.
Memberships: Governor's Council on Fitness, cochair, 2006;
Selected awards: State Farm Insurance, Wade Trophy, 1981; Honda, Broderick Cup, 1981; Women's Sports Foundation, Flo Hyman Award, 1993; Professional Women of Color, Breaking the Mold Award, 1998; Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 2002, 2004; Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, 2005.
Addresses: Home—Wichita, KS. E-mail—[email protected]
Became a Stockbroker
Daina Securities was a stock brokerage and financial services company, and while playing basketball for the company's team, Woodard developed an interest in the stock market. Always a good student, she quickly learned about the brokerage business and obtained her license to sell stock. Upon returning to the United States, she worked on the New York Stock Exchange for a time as an employee of Magna Securities, a brokerage firm founded in 1992 by Patricia Winans, another African-American woman. Woodard found that the world of investment, like basketball, required strategy and aggressiveness. She enjoyed negotiating the stimulating world of finance much as she loved the fast-paced demands of the basketball court. In 1993, as she was developing her financial career, Woodard also took a job as athletic director of the Kansas City, Missouri, school system, working there for two years.
As she pursued these other interests, Woodard had essentially retired from basketball, but in 1997 something happened that convinced her to come out of retirement. On April 24, 1996, the Board of Governors of the National Basketball Association gave its approval to a U.S. professional basketball league for women. The Women's National Basketball Association began play in June 1997, and Woodard was determined to be part of it. She was drafted by the Cleveland Rockers, then after one season was traded to the Detroit Shock. No longer the young powerhouse she had been earlier in her career, Woodard still made a good showing, playing twenty-seven games with the Shock, with a game-high score of 18. She retired from basketball for good in May 1999, just months before her fortieth birthday.
Woodard continued her successful stock brokerage career, becoming an independent agent for Primerica Financial Services. In 1999 she returned to the University of Kansas, going to work for her old friend and mentor Marian Washington as assistant basketball coach. When Washington retired for health reasons in 2003, Woodard served as interim head coach until a new coach was appointed. In 2006 Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius recognized Woodard's contribution to Kansas athletics when she appointed her to serve as cochair of her new Governor's Council on Fitness.
Woodard is recognized as a pioneer in women's athletics, both nationally and internationally. Many of the records she set while a basketball player at the University of Kansas have remained in place into the twenty-first century. Though she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 as a Globetrotter and in 2004 as an individual, and tapped for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame 2005, a technicality prevents her from holding the record for most career points in women's college basketball. When Woodard set her still-unbroken record with 3,649 career points, women's college basketball was overseen by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). During the early 1980s the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) took over most women's sports, and the NCAA did not recognize records set under the AIAW. Kansas fans and students of women's athletic achievement do, however, recognize that Lynette Woodard set the standard for all the athletes who followed her.
Lyman, Darrell, "Lynette Woodard: The First Female Harlem Globetrotter," in Great African American Women, Johnson-David Publishers, 2005, pp. 270-73.
Ebony, December 1985, pp. 131-35.
Jet, June 14, 1999, p. 46; April 26, 2004, p. 52.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 17, 2004.
Ms., January 1986, p. 44.
New York Beacon, February 4, 1998, p. 21.
New York Times, July 27, 1984, p. A18; July 12, 2006, p. D5.
People, November 4, 1985, pp. 127-29.
Sports Illustrated, January 26, 1981, pp. 41-43; January 6, 1986, pp. 44-48.
"Lynette Woodard," KU Sports, 2007, http://www.kusports.com/w_bball/roster/woodard.html (accessed March 2, 2008).
"Lynette Woodard," Official Website of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 2007, http://www.hoophall.com/halloffamers/bhof-lynette-woodard.html (accessed March 2, 2008).
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(b. 12 August 1959 in Wichita, Kansas), pioneer in women's collegiate and professional basketball who set the record for the most career points in the history of women's collegiate basketball (3,649), and was the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Woodard grew up in Wichita, the third of four children of Lugene Woodard, a firefighter, and Dorothy Jenkins Woodard, a homemaker. At an early age she and her brother invented their own version of basketball called sockball, in which they practiced their basketball techniques by shooting a rolled-up pair of their father's socks over doorways. Their indoor games soon gave way to outdoor games on the public playground.
As a sophomore at Wichita North High School, Woodard played on the girls' basketball team. With her help the team won the 5A state championship in 1975 and 1977. Her playing also caught the eye of Marian Washington, the coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Kansas (KU). Her senior year Woodard was selected as a high-school All-American and was heavily recruited by college coaches. After graduating from high school in 1977, she decided to play for Coach Washington at KU.
In 1978, Woodard's first year at KU, she led the nation in rebounds with 14.8 and was second in scoring with 25.2 points per game. In her sophomore, junior, and senior years she led the nation in steals. During her four years at Kansas, the Lady Jayhawks won three Big Eight championships and had a four-year 108–32 win-loss record. Woodard was selected as the Big Eight Tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times. She averaged 26.3 points per game and scored a record 3,649 points, an all-time scoring record for women's collegiate basketball. Her career record was especially spectacular because it was set in 1981, before the three-point rule. It is not listed as a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) record because it occurred one year before the NCAA took over the governance of women's college sports from the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
Woodard was a Kodak All-American all four years she played for Kansas (1978–1981). In her junior and senior years, she was also selected for Academic All-America honors. Her senior year she won both the Broderick Award and Wade Trophy as the women's college basketball player of the year. That same year she was selected as the Big Eight Conference Outstanding Female of the Year and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Wichita Chapter Woman of the Year. During her years at Kansas, playing forward and guard, she ranked first or second in the nation in steals, scoring, or rebounding. Woodard graduated from college in 1981 with a B.S. in speech communications and human relations. Her Lady Jayhawk retired jersey was hung next to those of Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning in the KU Allen Field House. In 1982, a year after graduating, the NCAA presented her with their Top V Award, naming her one of the top five collegiate athletes.
While at the University of Kansas, Woodard played on the U.S. national team that won a gold medal at the 1979 World University Games. She was selected for the 1980 U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, but due to the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics the team never competed. In 1983 Woodard was a member of the U.S. national teams that won a gold medal at the Pan-American Games and a silver medal at the World Championships. In 1984 she captained the U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. Prior to the Los Angeles Olympics, the U.S. national team won a gold medal in international competition at the Jones Cup in Taipei, Taiwan, and Woodard was named to the All-Tournament team.
In 1985 Woodard made history when she became the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. Woodard had learned how to twirl a basketball years earlier from her cousin Hubert "Geese" Ausbie, a world-famous Harlem Globetrotter comedian whose twenty-four–year career ended in 1984. Woodard was presented with the Harlem Globetrotters prestigious "Legends" ring in 1996.
After playing with the Globetrotters for two years, Woodard played professionally in Italy for two seasons (1987–1989). In 1989 she helped her team win the Italian national championship. She then played three seasons (1990–1993) in Japan for Daiwa Securities. Her Japanese team won the divisional championship in 1992. While based overseas, she returned home to play for the U.S. national women's basketball teams that won a gold medal at the 1990 World Championships and a bronze medal at the 1991 Pan-American Games.
In 1992 Woodard became the athletic director for the Kansas City (Missouri) School District. She remained at this position for two years before moving to New York City to become a registered stockbroker with Magna Securities Corporation. But her playing days were not over, and in 1997 she was drafted to play for the Cleveland Rockers of the newly formed Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). In 1997 she led the Cleveland Rockers in steals with forty-six. Woodard was selected for the WNBA Detroit Shock expansion team coached by Nancy Lieberman-Cline in 1998. She retired after the 1998 season to return to her alma mater, the University of Kansas, where she became the athletic department's special assistant for external relations and women's basketball, and put her extensive experience to work in her position as the assistant coach of the Lady Jayhawks.
At six feet tall, Lynette Woodard is considered one of the most outstanding women basketball players of all time. She was a gifted complete player, who could play any position at the highest level. Her combined uncanny ability to anticipate and her exceptional quickness allowed her to dominate play. She received the Women's Sports Foundation Flo Hyman Award in 1993, and was inducted into the foundation's International Sports Hall of Fame. In 1996 she served as a member of the Olympic Committee Board of Directors, and was named the greatest female player in the history of the Big Eight Conference. Sports Illustrated for Women named her one of the one hundred greatest women athletes in 1999. The following year, Woodard became the first woman to be inducted into the Kansas City Sports Walk of Stars. Woodard will always be remembered as a trailblazer and one of the greatest players in women's basketball.
Useful sources include Kansas State Historical Society, "Biographies—Lynette Woodard" (1997), http://www.kshs.org/people/woodard.htm; Bert Rosenthal, Lynette Woodard: The First Female Globetrotter (1986); and Matthew Newman and Howard Schroeder, Lynette Woodard (1986). See also Gai I. Berlage, "Woodard, Lynette," in The Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States (2000), George Kirsch, Othello Harris, and Claire E. Nolte eds. See also the magazine pullout "100 Greatest Female Athletes, 81. Lynette Woodard, Basketball," Sports Illustrated for Women (winter 1999–2000).
Gai Ingham Berlage