CHICAGO – Before Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky hoisted a WNBA Championship, the Chicago Hustle were working hard to put women’s professional basketball on the map.
“Women’s professional basketball is not 26 years old. It’s 44 years old,” noted Liz Galloway-McQuitter, an original member of the Hustle.
The year was 1978. Bill Byrne was starting the first women’s professional basketball league and here in the Windy City, a lunch meeting between Chuck Shriver and John Geraty earned Chicago a team.
“My first reaction was ‘your nuts,'” explained Shriver. “But as I thought about it, it was like ‘this could be kind of fun.’ It was making something out of nothing, bascially.”
Shriver became general manager of the Hustle and hurried to get the word out about Chicago’s newest team while helping build a roster full of talented players from all corners of the country.
“Karen Logan, who designed the smaller ball we ended up playing with, came to our campus at UNLV and basically recruited us,” Galloway-McQuitter remembered. “There were five of us on that team that ended up playing in the WBL and three of us came to the Hustle.”
“You play in college, but when you get around people from different areas that are fantastic players, that’s a whole different ball game,” remarked Adrian Mitchell-Newell.
A new team needed a new head coach. They found 27-year-old Doug Bruno who was the assistant athletic director at DePaul and head coach of the Blue Demons women’s team.
“Remember them like it was yesterday. They came to Chicago on a bet, on a hunch – we’re going to play pro ball,” noted Bruno. “None of them had been to Chicago before so they didn’t know what Chicago was as a sports city.”
The Hustle played and won their very first game against the Milwaukee Does at The Mecca on December 9th, 1978.
“That first year was just magical,” added Galloway-McQuitter. “We were thrust into the world of professional athletics.”
Hustle home games were played at Alumni Hall on DePaul’s campus in front of an energized crowd and media contingent that Shriver worked to create.
“It was actually the favorite time of all the things I did in my career because we really just started from scratch. We had to get the arena, draft the players. I had a lot of marketing to do. That was the basic thing – marketing. I was able to get a [TV] deal with WGN, thank goodness.”
That crowd and that atmosphere earned quite the reputation with Shriver spearheading promotions like free Dr. Peppers when the Hustle eclipsed the 110-point mark.
“We couldn’t even talk to each other on the court,” reminisced ‘Machine Gun Molly’ Bolin Kazmer, a sharpshooter from the Iowa Cornets. “You had to walk up and scream in their ear because it was so noisy in that gym. It was amazing.”
“They had their own little group of people – ‘The Chrome Dome,'” added former Hustle star Ethel ‘Poco’ White. “They had their own characters and characteristics. They had their own crew and they were there every single game. When we went out of town, they were following the Chicago Hustle everywhere.”
The ladies were in the midst of their first professional season. But, just six years earlier, they were part of other major firsts, as well – when the Title IX law went into effect in 1972, providing collegiate scholarships and a new set of opportunities for women in sports.
“Title IX activated the country. There were states that already had active women’s basketball- Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas,” Bruno noted.. But there were a lot states that weren’t – Illinois wasn’t.
“My mom had six kids, so the opportunity for me to go to college opened up because of Title IX,” explained Charlene McHorter Jackson, who won All-Star MVP as member of the Milwaukee Does before joining the Hustle. “My opportunity was real and it was limited. Had it not been for Title IX, I may not have had that opportunity.”
The WBL continued its run over the next few years. The Hustle thrived with strong attendance and support. However, other teams across the league weren’t able to sustain that same success. The league folded in 1981.
“Chicago was sustainable. Chicago would have lasted,” believes Galloway-McQuitter. “Most of the other teams were not. Chicago couldn’t pull everybody forward.”
But the end of the league certainly wasn’t the end of women’s professional basketball.
The WNBA tipped off in 1997 and the trailblazers of the WBL hope their history is recognized as the bridge to the next generation of women’s professional basketball.
“You can’t talk about how far the game has come if you don’t know where it began,” Galloway-McQuitter reiterated. “We were not the first to play the game. Of course not. But, we are the Title IX era that changed the trajectory of the sport.”
“We didn’t know when we were playing that we were that far ahead of our time,” noted Bolin Kazmer. “We really believed that the league was going to go. We knew we were pioneers. We knew we were paving the ground for the future, but we had no idea it was going to be that far into the future.”
Galloway-McQuitter, Bolin Kazmer, Mitchell-Newell, McWhorter Jackson, and Schaumburg native Peggy Kennedy founded a non-profit organization called Legends of the Ball, Inc. in an effort to preserve their legacy while providing scholarships, community outreach along with camps and clinics.
The group hoped to be acknowledged at the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game 42 years after Chicago hosted the WBL All-Star Game. But, that didn’t happen.
“There’s an agony. There’s a pain inside that they don’t know our names or speak our names,” said Galloway-McQuitter. “They continue to soar and don’t know who gave them wings. They don’t know whose shoulders they stand on. We don’t fault them because you don’t know what you don’t know.”
So, LOB Inc. fights on to keep its mission of promoting the historic and social relevance of the WBL going by sharing stories, a love of basketball and the journey that brings them back.
“It’s never too late to discover someone to look up to.”
All they want is recognition from the league they helped blaze the trail for.
The group is back in town hosting their second annual LOB, Inc. golf tournament fundraiser. Funds go to their scholarship endowment and historic relevance endowment.
If you’d like to donate to their cause, visit www.legendsoftheballinc.org.