Fitness Firsts: 5 Things To Know About Lynette Woodard, The First Woman To Play For The Harlem Globetrotters

March 16, 2018  |  

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For Women’s History month, we are excited to take the time out to celebrate the trailblazing accomplishments of Black women in sports. Without them, doors wouldn’t have been opened to allow some of the greatest names in all of sports, woman and man alike, to compete and make their mark. 

Lynette Woodard was quite the trailblazer. Wherever the basketball legend went, she made her mark and was the first of many important things. That includes the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. And while she didn’t get the chance to get the shoe deals like Sheryl Swoopes or the TV opportunities like Lisa Leslie due to the fact that her talent was ahead of its time (the WNBA was formed near the end of her career), she opened doors for other women to finally get to play professionally Stateside. Check out five things to know about her life and career.

She was the first woman to have her jersey retired at Kansas University.

While enrolled at the University of Kansas, Woodard attracted a lot of attention and put some major numbers on the board. She scored the most points in NCAA women’s basketball history, and set similar records with field goals and field goals attempted during her time at the school. She also set records at Kansas for rebounds, steals, free throws made and the number of games played. And if that wasn’t enough, she also excelled academically, graduating in 1981 with a B.A. in speech communications and human relations. Her talent on the court helped her to be the first woman at Kansas to have her jersey retired.

She was captain of the 1984 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team.

Woodard got to lead the U.S. Women’s Olympic basketball squad in 1984. She did a pretty great job because the women ended up winning gold in Los Angeles. Unfortunately though, following the Games there weren’t any real opportunities for her to play professionally. She took her talents back to Kansas for a job with the women’s basketball program while she figured out her next move.

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She was the first woman to hold her own as a Harlem Globetrotter.

An opportunity to play professionally came about in an unexpected way. The Harlem Globetrotters were hoping to expand their fan base, so they decided to add a woman to their roster. Woodard joined the team in 1985 and played with them for two years, showcasing her abilities with almost the same amount of minutes as her male teammates.

She was the oldest woman to join the WNBA.

After playing abroad and doing work outside of basketball for a time, at the age of 38, returned to the game. She joined the newly created Women’s National Basketball Association, or the WNBA. She held her own, despite her age, for two seasons, balling for the Cleveland Rockers and the Detroit Shock.

She can lead off the court, too.

After her time in the WNBA, Woodard also had the chance to coach. She did so as assistant coach of the women’s basketball team at Kansas, and in 2017 she was named head coach of  the women’s team at Winthrop University. For all of her efforts, Woodard has been inducted into multiple hall of fames, including the legendary Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Check out our previous Fitness Firsts post, on the late Alice Coachman

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