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So What’s The Good News? Honoring some of the greatest women to ever grace professional sports, I have decided to construct a list of the 10 very best African-American female athletes ever. Of course, this is just one gal’s opinion, so readers feel free to get at me with your own lists and comments, and I will be sure to publish on my blog! Here we go!!
1. Jackie Joyner-Kersee
With every one of the incredible female athletes to ever be involved in any sport, I found it amazingly simple to put Joyner-Kersee in this area. Joyner-Kersee, who was often described as “the best all-around female athlete in the world, ” was an amazing patient who overcame her asthmatic condition to establish herself as one of track and field’s most competitive and determined performers ever.
In 1988, she won two gold medals in the Olympics in Seoul, Korea exhibiting incredible perseverance in the heptathlon (a punishing, two-day contest that tests a great athlete’s strength, speed and stamina) plus the long jump.
In the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain, Joyner-Kersee retained her title as the “world’s greatest female athlete” together with another gold medal performance in the heptathlon. The two-time world champion in both long jump (1987, 1991) and heptathlon (1987, 1993) was also the 1986 recipient of the Sullivan Award, presented to the country’s top amateur athlete.
Joyner-Kersee was also an outstanding basketball player who routinely competed with the majority of the game’s best players in her spare time. I truly believe that Joyner-Kersee is a world-class athlete that would excel in any pursuit.
2. Wilma Rudolph
Long before becoming the world’s fastest woman, Rudolph beat her greatest odds by learning to walk on her own. As the 17th of 21 children, Rudolph was suffering from polio, scarlet fever and double pneumonia and grew up wearing a brace on her right leg. To everyone’s amazement, she removed the brace and walked unassisted at age nine. By age 13 she was outracing all the neighborhood kids – even the boys. By 16 she had qualified for the 1956 Olympics where she won a bronze in the 4×100-meter relay and in Rome four years later, she grew to become a nationally beloved figure when she won the 100 and 200 meters and 4×100.
Rudolph was additionally an outspoken Civil Rights advocate who participated in sit-ins at “whites-only” restaurants, ran a community center and established the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, which sends schools tutors and books about American heroes – a category that surely consists of the incomparable Wilma Rudolph. Wilma Rudolph, a true overcoming spirit and testament of the excellence of the human will.
3. Alice Coachman
I found it odd how few people who I talked to knew about Alice Coachman and her amazing sports accomplishments. Coachman leaped into history when she became the very first Black woman to win a gold medal, following a record-setting performance in the high jump at the 1948 Olympics in London.
Because Coachman dominated the high jump for a decade, many sports fans consider the Tuskegee Institute (now University) champ, who also was a top sprinter, probably would have won more medals if the 1940 and 1944 Olympics hadn’t been canceled as a result of World War II.
She earned the AAU outdoor high jump championship from 1939 to 1948, and she was indoor champion in 1941, 1945 and 1946. There was no indoor competition from 1938 to 1940 or from 1942 to 1944. No doubt that had she competed in those canceled Olympics, we would probably be talking about her as the most recognized female athlete of all-time. As it stands, her accomplishments were good enough to make the list of finest athletes ever.
4.(tied) Cheryl Miller
Although I have Miller ranked fourth on this list and also the first basketball player to make the list, I don’t know if I could necessarily say that Cheryl Miller is the greatest female basketball player ever. However, she is one of the greatest and furthermore what she brought to the game was that “in-your-face” aggressive kind of play that altered the women’s game forever and lifted its reputation to heights that it had never seen before.
Miller was a four-time All-American in high school and once scored 105 points in a high school game. After enrolling with the University of Southern California, Miller became a four-time All-American, and for three consecutive years, she won the Naismith Award as the nation’s outstanding female basketball player (1984-1986). She finished her collegiate career with averages of 23. 6 points per game and 12 rebounds per game, and was the first ball player at USC–male or female–to have a jersey number retired.
In addition to her Olympic achievements, Miller also starred on US national basketball teams that won gold medals in the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela, and at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow. In the same year, she was selected by several professional basketball leagues, including US Basketball League, a men’s league. Injuries shortened Miller’s career in 1995, she was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Although I’m a bit more partial towards either Dawn Staley or Cynthia Cooper as the greatest female basketball player of all-time, Miller earned this spot with both her on-court and off-court contributions to the game.
4. (tied)Cynthia Cooper
I don’t think there’s ever been a superior leader or winner in women’s basketball than Cynthia Cooper, whom, for all intents and reasons, was the female equivalent of Michael Jordan. jussayin
Cooper became the standard bearer for the WNBA and helped establish it to be a thriving league, which is now considered to be the ultimate showcase for skilled female basketball players. After leading the University of Southern California to two championships (1983-’84) and winning a gold medal with the U. S. Olympic team with 1988, she excelled in the European leagues before returning to the U. S. to join the Houston Comets during their inaugural WNBA season.
Cooper was a two-time league MVP with the Comets and led the group to four championships and was named playoff MVP duriong those years. She was the very first to reach the 2,500-point plateau and held WNBA records for scoring in a single-game and for the season.
5. Althea Gibson
Gibson was the 1st African-American to win Wimbledon. She brought grace, dignity and power to the world of tennis in the 1950′s as well as intimidated opponents with her powerful serve, pinpoint volleys and thundering overhead. But she is best thought of for having the courage to fight major tennis’ all-white establishment.
Gibson was a pioneer who broke several racial barriers within the sport and paved the way for future stars such as Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison, and Venus and Serena Williams. The first African-American to win the Wimbledon singles title (she did it twice, in 1957 and 1958), she also won the French open and U. S. Open singles titles.
During the summer of 1941, a Police Athletic League supervisor watched Gibson win an area paddleball tournament and suggested she take up tennis. Gibson began taking classes, beating all comers and rapidly rising from the ranks of New York’s all-Black US Tennis Association (ATA). In 1947, Gibson won the first of her 10 consecutive ATA national championships. She continued to dominate the ATA circuit while remaining shut away from all-white United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) events.
After years of lobbying on the part of ATA officials and contemporaries including former Wimbledon champion Alice Marbled, Gibson made tennis history when she stepped onto Court 14 at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York on August 28, 1950 to compete in women’s singles at the U. S. Championship.
Gibson became the first African-American — female or male — to play in a major USLTA event. She defeated England’s Barbara Knapp with straight sets, but lost to former Wimbledon champion Louise Brough in the second round. She made history again at Wimbledon that year, advancing to the quarterfinals.
Gibson was nearly 30 when she earned her first Wimbledon title in 1957. She returned to a hero’s welcome and ticker-tape parade in the big apple. She won her first U. S. Championship later that year and became the top-ranked female tennis player on the globe. After winning her second U.S. title in 1958, Gibson retired from competition. She took up golf and broke another color barrier by becoming the very first African-American woman to compete on the LPGA circuit. She won one tournament within a seven-year career.
After retiring from professional competition in 1971, Gibson taught tennis and in addition served as athletic commissioner for the State of New Jersey from 1975 to ’77. She was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971 and to the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.
Gibson once summed up her life by saying, “Ain’t that a blip, that a Harlem street rebel would go on as a world tennis champion?”
6. Florence Griffith-Joyner
Florence Griffith-Joyner, who set world records in the 100 and 200 meters, had not been alone among athletes burning herself into public memory. Yet she was alone in her sport. In 1988 she burst in the spotlight, having transformed herself from the sprinter who had won silver in the 200 meters at the boycott-thinned 1984 Olympics into the fastest woman in history. She ran the 100 in 10.49 seconds in 1988, a world record that wasn’t even approached for a decade.
The sister-in-law of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, “Flo-Jo” won three gold medals in the ’88 Games and set a world record of 21.34 in the 200. A decade later, long retired nevertheless a vital personality, she died of a heart seizure.
It wasn’t purely speed that formed Flo-Jo’s icon, but also style. She used one-legged unitards and lace attachments when other women wore shorts, melding athleticism and glamour like no one else.
6. Dawn Staley
After being named the national high school player of the year through her final season at Dobbins, Staley joined the University of Virginia and led her team to several NCAA Tournaments and three Final Fours and a single National Championship game. She was named the national player on the year in 1991 and 1992 and finished her collegiate career with 2,135 points and holds the NCAA record for career steals with 454.
In 1996, she joined the Richmond Rage on the American Basketball League (ABL) and led the team to the finals in 1997. In 2001, she led the Charlotte Sting on the WNBA to the Championship game in the WNBA playoffs. Staley also played overseas in France, Italy, Brazil and Spain before joining this WNBA.
She also played for team USA throughout her career and won 3 Olympic Gold Medals. She led the 1996 team to an undefeated record of 60-0 plus the gold medal at the Olympic games in Atlanta. In 1994 she competed at the World Championships and was named the USA’s basketball Female Athlete of the year. She was also a member of the 2000 Olympic team that defended the gold medal and won a third gold medal at the 2004 games in Athens.
Her Olympic performance named her the 2004 USA Basketball Female Athlete Of the Year and also helped her land a role carrying the US flag during the parade of nations at the opening ceremony.
After the 1999 basketball season, Temple University named Staley the head coach of its women’s golf ball program and she reached the 100th win plateau within the A-10 Semifinals vs. Xavier, becoming the fastest coach in women’s basketball to accomplish this. Off the court Stanley started the Dawn Staley Foundation to assist area youths.
7. Venus Williams
I realize she’s not as dominant as she was and that frequent injuries and age may never let her dominate as she once did, but Venus Williams is hands-down on the list of ten greatest black female athletes ever.
In 2000, she won the Wimbledon championship plus the U. S. Open in singles and defended both titles the following year. In 2002 and 2003, Venus reached five major finals but lost all to her sister including the 2003 Wimbledon finals she took part in despite suffering a serious abdominal injury which required medical attention during the match.
Williams also won two Gold medals at the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000 plus the 1999 French Open doubles with Serena as her partner, and five other doubles and a pair of mixed doubles grand slams.
When Venus and Serena won the 1999 French Open doubles title, they became the first sisters to win a doubles title in the 20th century.
What did the trick for me in putting Venus ahead of her sister however was the 2005 Wimbledon finals, which she reached without dropping a pair. She defeated the defending champion Maria Sharapova in the semifinals in straight sets with a skillful display of speed, athleticism and power, breaking Sharapova’s serve 4 times.
In the longest Wimbledon final ever, Venus overcame a match point against her to conquer top seed Lindsay Davenport 4-6 7-6(4) 9-7 to claim the 2005 Wimbledon Championship – her third Wimbledon title in six years. That was also the first time in 70 years that a player had won after facing match point during the women’s championship. In addition, Williams, as the 14th seed in the pull, was the lowest seed in to win the title in Wimbledon record.
8. Serena Williams
I know I have her ranked one spot below her sister though she is a better player than her sister. However, Serena’s athletic gifts probably should have taken her to unprecedented heights in tennis. Her admitted insufficient work ethic prevented her from becoming the greatest female tennis player of all-time, which she clearly could have become.
Whatever the case, Serena still was good enough to get the most successful African-American woman’s tennis player of all-time and one of the best female athletes ever.
In 1999, Williams, the former number one player in the world, won her first Grand Slam tournament when she won US Open and also became the very first African American woman to win a Grand Slam tournament since Althea Gibson in 1958.
In 2000, Williams won the doubles gold medal at the Olympics with sister Venus. In 2002, she won the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. She finished the year with a 56-5 record and 8 titles, arguably becoming the most dominant female in tennis at that time.
She also stayed number one for a year and during that year won 5 of her 7 Slam Titles. She also reached one more of the WTA tour championships for a second time before losing to Kim Clijsters. She also won the Wimbledon doubles title with her sister Venus for a second time.
In 03, Serena won the Australian Open, her fourth straight Grand Slam singles title, becoming only the ninth woman ever to win all four Grand Slam events. Her accomplishment was dubbed the Serena Slam.
Williams withdrew from the Australian Open in 2004 to continue rehabilitating her left knee but reached the final of Wimbledon once again. However, she lost to 17-year-old Russian, Maria Sharapova.
In 2005, she won her seventh Grand Slam, winning the Australian Open. Williams may be at the end of her tennis legacy, but even if she never wins another match, Serena has proven herself to be a champion through and through.
9. Lisa Leslie
Like Dawn Staley, Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper, Leslie has come to define excellence in women’s basketball. A mainstay on USA Basketball teams since being named to the 1989 USA Junior World Championship Team as a high school senior, Leslie has been a member of nine USA Basketball gold medal winning teams, earning top honors at the 2004, 2000 and 1996 Olympic Games, 1999 U.S. Olympic Cup, 1998 and 2002 FIBA World Championships, 1994 Goodwill Games, 1993 COPABA World Championship Qualifying Tournament, 1992 R. William Jones Cup and 1991 World University Games.
Leslie closed out her third and possibly final Olympic competition ranking as the USA’s all-time leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker after compiling 407 points, 185 rebounds and 25 blocked shots in the three Olympic Games. She has also posted double-digit scoring averages in every major international event she has competed and boasts USA Basketball career averages of 16.0 ppg. and 6.9 rpg.
During her 14 years with USA Basketball, Leslie has etched her name throughout the USA Basketball record books. On the World Championship stage, Leslie ranks first among all-time USA World Championship leaders in points (393) and rebounds (190) and ranks second in blocked shots (17).
Leslie was signed by the WNBA and assigned to the Los Angeles Sparks on Jan. 22, 1997. In her first seven years with the Sparks, Leslie helped the Sparks to a 151-69 overall record, including a 28-4 record in 2001, and a pair of WNBA titles.
En route to the 01 championship, Leslie averaged 22.3 ppg., 12.3 rpg., 4.4 bpg., and 3.0 apg. in the playoffs and recorded 35 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocked shots in the Sparks 93-62 victory over the Charlotte Sting in the final contest. Earning WNBA Most Valuable Player honors in 2001, Leslie capped the year with the 2001 WNBA Finals MVP award.
Leslie finished the 2002 season as one of only two players to average a double-double after posting averages of 16.9 ppg. and 10.4 rpg. in leading the Sparks to a 25-7 record and a first place finish in the Western Conference. She also hit a major milestone in 2002, becoming the first person to dunk in a WNBA game after doing so against Miami on July 30, 2002. Averaging 19.8 ppg. and 8.0 rpg. throughout the playoffs, Leslie again collected WNBA Finals MVP honors after leading the Sparks to their second straight title.
A five-time WNBA All-Star, Leslie earned 1999, 2001 and 2002 WNBA All-Star Game MVP accolades after helping the Western Conference to victories over the Eastern Conference. Additionally, Leslie has been named to the All-WNBA first team (1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003) or All-WNBA second team (1998, 1999) in each of the league’s seasons.
10. Willye White
White, who may be even less remembered than Coachman, was a two-time Olympic silver medalist and a consistent model of athletic excellence as a member of an incredible five U.S. Olympic teams–1956, 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972.
She won her first silver medal in the long jump in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia. At the 1964 Games in Tokyo, she won another silver medal as a member of the 4×100-meter relay team. In addition to her Olympic achievements, she was a member of – and medalist on – four Pan American teams. In 1959, she set an American long jump record that stood for 16 years.
White is a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the National Association of Sport and Physical Education Hall of Fame, the Black Sports Hall of Fame, the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame, the Helms Hall of Fame, the Mississippi State Hall of Fame and the Tennessee State University Hall of Fame.
So there you have it, my top10 list of the greatest black female athletes of all time! If yours varies, please feel free to post your list and comment. Hope you enjoyed!
Nicole Resheka Tatum author of Poetry Passion Purpose available at Amazon.com, strives to bring the "Good News" of the strides of African Americans by writing informative articles and extraordinary poetry that empowers Blacks to actualize the greatness that our forefathers fought and died for. As we discover the truth we eliminate excuse. WWW.THEPOETRYLOVE.COM