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Hoop Muses: The past, present and future of women's basketball

Kate Fagan talks about her basketball upbringing, working with Seimone Augustus and the future of women's hoops.

Have you ever heard of Lusia Harris, the first and only woman drafted by the NBA? Did you know that Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame coach, Pat Summit, raised money for her Lady Vols team by selling donuts? Ever wondered how the careers of WNBA legends Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes were launched?

Look no further than “Hoop Muses” by author Kate Fagan. The book is a guide to all-things women’s basketball from the game’s invention in 1901 to the stories of the present day stars. “Hoop Muses” pays homage to the people and the moments that  have shaped the world of women’s hoops. 

Fagan is an Emmy-award winning journalist who previously worked for ESPN and the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of “What Made Maddy Run.” For the creation of “Hoop Muses,” she joined forces with eight-time WNBA All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist, Seimone Augustus as well as illustrator Sophia Chang (who is responsible for incredibly detailed and alluring artwork in the book).

“To be a women’s hooper is to be a part of a long and proud tradition, but not one often celebrated in popular culture. Hoop Muses is here to change that,” she details on the book’s back cover.

Fagan spoke with to discuss her basketball beginnings, the research she poured into the book, what it was like to work with WNBA legend, Seimone Augustus, the NBA’s impact on the game and the future of women’s basketball. 

Editor’s Note: The following conversation has been condensed and edited. Why basketball? When did you decide to pursue a career telling basketball stories?

My dad played overseas in France for a number of years, and he played D1 here — so I grew up going to his games. He played up until he got really sick, which was about five times a week my whole life.  I went with him everywhere, and of course what comes along with that is running onto the court in between games and shooting for a couple minutes. I ended up playing in college, and then played semi-professionally. I don’t know that I ever chose basketball — it was in my blood. 

When I eventually stopped playing basketball, I didn’t have a game plan. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but at that time I hadn’t studied writing. One thing I did have was the basketball experience that I thought would be attractive to sports journalism or people hiring within it. 

You mentioned in “Hoop Muses” the importance of telling women’s stories. When you were at ESPN, you made it a priority to pitch women’s stories. In your words, why did you see value in doing so?

I work in an industry where what we care about is compelling stories with drama, friction and cultural relevance. Most of the stories in men’s sports have been retold and then retold again, and that’s not the same about women’s sports. Do I care about being a contributor to the growth of women’s sports? Yes. But more than anything, I like great stories, and there’s so many great stories that have just been forgotten by history that I think are just worthy of attention. 

Where and when did you brainstorm the idea for the book?

About two years ago, I was showering and had the idea. I was really big into learning about the history of the game. I had all of these historical stories that I wanted to tell, but there was no real relevant reason for me to tell them when you look at them singularly. Why would I tell the story of an Iowa high school girls basketball team in 1904 when we are in 2023?

So I thought to myself: what if I got a really cool illustrator [Chang] to bring a lot of fun dynamic color? Then it would help if somebody from the WNBA lineage [Augustus] was a part of it. Eventually we put the pieces together of Sophia and Seimone being a dream team to help tell this.

What was it like to work with WNBA legend, Seimone Augustus, in the making of this book?

I wanted somebody who had been at the very top of the game, but I also wanted somebody who cared about and had expressed over the years interest in the culture of the game. Simone was a perfect blend of those two – having won Olympic gold medals with Team USA and WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx – but if you follow her, she also loves sneaker culture and general culture behind the game.

What also came with adding her and pairing-up Rebecca Lobo and Theresa Weatherspoon is  going even more granular in their power metrics on defensive shooting. To be able to go to Seimone and say ‘I gave Teresa Weatherspoon a 90% on defense, does that ring true to you?’ Those were details we cared about, and added that extra layer of the book I thought would separate it.

How did you research each individual story in the book in order to tell a comprehensive narrative on the history of women’s basketball?

At first, I just compiled a timeline of women’s basketball history. So I consulted a lot of timelines in my research to be sure that I didn’t miss some huge pieces. Then I got to a point where there were entire decades missing. What really helped is reading a couple seminal books like “Shattering the Glass.” The amount of information in that book was astounding. I also wanted to try to get an original interview for as many of the stories as I could. I did end up getting a lot of people to talk to me for it, so hopefully that added a different element where you’re actually getting something original, as opposed to something that has already been printed before. 

Did you have a favorite story you told within the book?

I can’t even tell you how many things in this book have reshaped how I think about sports. Even the detail in  ways the game was originally played — there were as many boxes as there were women on the court. I’d heard of six-on- six, and I also knew that women were limited to half court at certain points, but I didn’t know there was ever a version of the game where you had a box and you couldn’t leave that box. 

In the writing of the book, it made me rethink how the world looks at female athletes, and how they look at female athletes is directly impacting how they’re covered in the media. It gave me deep foundational knowledge of the institutional hurdles that face women’s sports, because you see them play out throughout this book.

Many NBA stars such as Chris Paul, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard have been vocal about their support of the growth of women’s basketball. What is their impact on the game?

It’s a key part of the WNBA’s continued cultural growth, because these players have so much cultural capital. I think that there’s something really beautiful about a lot of NBA athletes realizing that their spotlight can do a lot for the WNBA’s growth, and that the ‘W’ is actually cool. It can also do a lot for their brands to be associated with it

Where do you see the future of the women’s game growing?

It’s an interesting question, because the only models I have are men’s sports. How do we deem the WNBA as successful? In the theoretical future that I write about in the book in 2072 — the whole premise is that Jacklyn Jones [the protagonist] gets a $100 million dollar contract. I do think we are headed in the trajectory that we will see million-dollar contracts and see franchises grow in value. Then when we get to that point where women are earning a living, and don’t have to go overseas and also have a similar place in our society, I think women’s sports will have to ask themselves the question of what success is. Is it having a $100 million contract? Or is it funneling some of that money back into female youth programs? I can’t answer that yet.