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Basketball coach Billie Moore died Wednesday at age 79

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One of the true pioneers in basketball died earlier this week. Billie Moore was the first U.S. women's basketball team coach at the 1976 Olympics and led her team to medal that year in Montreal.

ANDREW MARANISS: She was successful, you know, won two national championships as a college coach and led the '76 Olympic team to a silver medal when no one in the world expected anything from the American women in those Olympics.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

That's author Andrew Maraniss. He wrote "Inaugural Ballers," a book about Moore and the first U.S. women's basketball team.

MARANISS: I think anyone that ever played for Billie would say that she demanded their very best and more than they thought that they could give at certain times. But that's what she felt was the responsibility.

SHAPIRO: Moore grew up wanting to become a basketball coach like her dad, Billy Moore, and she got the opportunity at 26 when women's basketball was in its infancy.

SUMMERS: But according to her former players, that didn't slow down in intensity.

MARY ANNE O'CONNOR: We were very disciplined, and we ran a lot.

ANN MEYERS DRYSDALE: (Laughter) And we ran and ran and ran.

JULIENE BRAZINSKI SIMPSON: We ran our legs off, three practices a day. Sometimes we would say to each other, what are we, a track team?

SUMMERS: Those are former players of Moore's, Juliene Brazinski Simpson, Ann Meyers Drysdale and Mary Anne O'Connor, who, looking back, all appreciate those times when the extra training came in handy late in games.

SHAPIRO: Juliene Brazinski Simpson says she'll never forget those challenging times at practice with Moore.

SIMPSON: More so than words, she had this stare that when I made a mistake, I - all's I did was I would nod. I wouldn't even look at her. I didn't want to look at her.

SHAPIRO: Moore was the first to do a lot of things in the sport. She was also the first coach in women's basketball history to lead teams from two different schools to national championships, with Cal State Fullerton and UCLA.

SUMMERS: Her reach extends into the present-day game. Many of Moore's players went on to become coaches themselves, most notably Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers Drysdale, vice president of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury.

DRYSDALE: She had a pulse about what was going on in our game.

SHAPIRO: Ann Meyers Drysdale says Moore was very similar to the famous men's UCLA coach John Wooden.

DRYSDALE: She was an intense coach, but yet she could have fun. And she didn't swear, just like Coach Wooden, but there was this sense about her that, you know, there was a faith-filled person there.

SHAPIRO: Billie Moore was inducted in both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

SUMMERS: She died from cancer at home Wednesday night in California. She was 79. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gus Contreras
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.