“Hoop Muses”: A New Book on Women’s Basketball Looks to Los Angeles for Swagger and Memories

The illustrated history of the women’s game spans the world, but always finds time to come back to Los Angeles

Mere moments after a referee tossed a cream and orange basketball in the air for the first time ever in WNBA history, Los Angeles’ own Lisa Leslie rose up to win the women’s game’s inaugural tip off.

“It was electric,” said Seimone Augustus, the four-time WNBA champion and curator of Hoop Muses: An Insider’s Guide to Pop Culture and the (Women’s) Game, a brand-new illustrated history of women’s basketball. More than 100 years after a woman first picked up a basketball, the most important women’s basketball league tipped off. Finally, “this was the first time that they felt at ease” about making a living playing the game they loved, remembered Augustus.

That night, and for the rest of her thirteen-year career, Leslie wore the purple and yellow of the Los Angeles Sparks, breaking records and setting other firsts for women’s basketball and the WNBA.

The history of women’s basketball is a long and rich one, but when it comes to mainstream moments like the WNBA’s first game, the Los Angeles basketball community “started it all,” Augustus told L.A. Magazine.

Written by Kate Fagan (formerly of ESPN and Sports Illustrated) and illustrated by Sophia Chang, the book is meant for current and future hoop heads who simply don’t know their history and the next generation of women ballers.

“It really disappoints me at times when I talk to young ladies [about their favorite players],” Augustus said. “They tell me ‘some guy’! And I’m like, ‘What? But you’re playing women’s basketball’.”

In gathering a collection of the many high points in women’s basketball to share with the next generation, Augustus and Fagan regularly found these stories, more often than not, originated in Los Angeles—and with Leslie. First WNBA commercial? That featured USC alum and future Sparks star Lisa Leslie. First dunk? Leslie again. First dynasty? Houston Comets… led by former USC standout Cynthia Cooper. Second dynasty? Leslie and the Sparks.

As a player, Augustus always knew that when she played in Los Angeles there were “gonna be stars in the building.” Whether it was Snoop Dogg or Kobe Bryant, who, along with his late daughter Gianna, have a whole page dedicated to them later in the book. There was star power both on the court and in the crowd. “Start with a player like Lisa [Leslie] and and you end up with Tina Thompson, Candace Parker and all these big name players throughout the years,” said Augustus.

Augustus, who finished her WNBA playing career and also began her coaching career with the L.A. Sparks, is now on a brief hiatus, working as a facilitator at Athletes Unlimited, a new exhibition-based sports league that fits into the WNBA offseason.

Augustus has long been aware of the game’s history and important trends. Now, as both coach and curator, she is passing on an important lesson she learned in the “City of Angels” to her players, students, and readers.

“It’s the mindset of the people [in Los Angeles] that makes it so special. They don’t accept anything less than success,” said Augustus. It speaks volumes then that the L.A. Sparks are the last WNBA team to win championships in back-to-back years.

Throughout the book, Augustus appears in a graphic comic, walking the reader through a century-plus of history on the women’s game. As the narrative nears the 1990s and the creation of the WNBA, the college game still reigned supreme, and Augustus brings the readers to USC.

“They brought the flair” to the women’s game, Augustus’ animated character says in the book. As ever, the women balling in Los Angeles had that ‘Itfactor.

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