Minnesota Fillies @ Iowa Cornets, January 13, 1980 (WBL)

In 1980, the Women's Pro Basketball League (WBL) was working its way through its second season.  As it turned out, it would be the last one for the Cornets, who would finish with a 24-12 record and make it to the finals against the New York Stars, losing three games to one.  It was the second - and last - time the Cornets had come up empty handed in the WBL Finals

If you've never heard of the WBL, it was the very first professional women's basketball league in the United States, lasting from 1979 to 1981.  The authoritative book about the WBL was written by Karra Porter and called "Mad Seasons - The Story of the First Women's Professional Basketball League."  Finding stats about a WBL game is something as rare as finding hen's teeth but I know that when the Cornets and the rival Minnesota Fillies (who finished 22-12) faced each other on January 13, 1980 that the Cornets won 109-93 behind a 54-point performance from Molly Bolin.

Bolin came to the WBL by way of Moravia, Iowa and the six-player game that was popular in Iowa high schools.  Players were limited to one of two half-courts and her lack of experience in the transition game or ever playing any defense hurt her.  She played two seasons at Grand View College (now Grand View University) in Des Moines out of three years of "eligibility" - she took one year off after marriage and giving birth to her son Damien.  Returning, she averaged 24.6 points per game and became the first signee ever in the WBL.

At the time, Bolin's 54 was the most points scored by a woman in a professional basketball game.  She would share the MVP award with Ann Meyers that year.  The next year she'd beat her previous record by scoring 55 points in a game, playing through a separated shoulder that she suffered in the second quarter.  

So what did the game look like between two top women's teams in 1980?  Was it comparable to the WNBA today?

After watching the video above two times, it looks like Bolin was a quite fearless shooter, able to jack it up from anywhere.  Bolin was 5-9, however, and it doesn't look like the other players are that much taller than her.  I wonder how Bolin would have dealt with a Tina Charles/Lisa Leslie/Sylvia Fowles type in the post that had both athleticism and height.  (Maybe there were players like that on other teams.)  5-9 seems to be the default height of all the players in this clip.

Bolin will shoot even when leaning away from a defender, and she's making the shots look easy.  Of course, she scored 54 points in this game but she averaged 32.8 a game, which is equivalent to 27.33 WNBA points per game.  No one in the W has ever had that kind of season; the closest was Diana Taurasi's 25.29 points per game in 2006  Come to think of it, the 54 point game translates to a 45 point game in the WNBA which is comparable to the WNBA all-time best game performances. 

More astonishing is that even though the WBL had a 3-point line - it seems to be marked with black electrical tape on the YouTube clip - 3-pointers were rarely attempted in the WBL.  The 3-point distance was the same as that of the NBA, but the NBA hasn't awoken to the possibilities of the 3-pointer either.  This was the WBL's first season with a 3-point arc. During that 1979-80 season, the defending champion Houston Angels did not attempt a single 3-point shot.  Minnesota went 2-for-10 from 3-point range...for the season.  (However, Muffet McGraw was 2-for-3 on the season, a regular sharpshooter.)  

Bolin shot 22-for-35 from the field and 10-for-11 at the free throw line without making or attempting any shots from 3-point range.  She played 38 minutes of a 48 minute game.

The game has what I'd call 90 percent of a modern flow.  It's not quite there yet, but it's not like the Immacula-Maryland game from 1971 where the players don't even seem to know what they're doing sometimes.  (Nate Parham said that game was a kind of mechanical-looking game.)  
The instruction is undoubtedly a lot better and the athleticism of the game has improved greatly since basketball from the beginning of the 1970s.

Bolin's shot is almost effortless - no wonder they called her "Machine Gun" Molly Bolin.  She could score, it seems, from any part of the court - from the baseline, from mid-range, from the wings, from the top of the key, on the fast-break, any way she wanted to.

What's interesting about Bolin is how "girly" she is in her Farrah Fawcett hairdo and shorty shorts.  (The Cornets used to sell glamour posters of her.)  Her hands hangly loosely off her wrists in a short of exaggerated saunter as if she was trying to shake water off her fingertips.  But she could definitely play some ball.


* It looks as if this is being played at Vets Auditorium, the former home of the Drake University Bulldogs.
* I enjoy the Cornets mix and match cheerleaders at the end of the right baseline.
* Note #12 of the Cornets and her massive 'fro.
* Molly Bolin Kazmer now sells real estate in Palm Springs, California.
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