You may recognize the names of WNBA greats Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie. Swoopes was the first person signed by the league in 1996, and Leslie retired in 2009 as the league’s all-time leading scorer (6,263 points).
Before the WNBA, people like Ann Meyers and Nancy Lieberman paved the way for current players by signing with the Women’s Basketball League, a professional league that started with eight teams and lasted three seasons from 1978-1981.
Add the names of two Lakers to the list of WBL alumnae; Barb Hansen and Kim Hansen were among the 100 former WBL players who were recognized in June at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Although not related, the Hansens played together at Grand Valley for coaches Joan Boand and Pat Baker from 1976-1979. Both were inducted into the Laker Hall of Fame; Kim set 21 basketball records while at Grand Valley and Barb was the first recipient of a GLIAC Player of the Week award after once scoring 24 points against Western Michigan.
After graduating, they were both drafted by the San Francisco Pioneers. Kim recalled being surprised after learning that news. “It was my senior year and Joan Boand told me I was drafted, and I said, ‘Drafted by who?’ I wasn’t aware there was a women’s league,” she said.
Barb and Kim joined the WBL in its second season. “I was coming out of college and still playing basketball and getting paid for it; it was great,” Barb said.
Barb played one season and Kim stayed for a second season, when the league began to fold as players weren’t being paid and fan attendance dropped.
Yet it was the legacy of the WBL trailblazers that was affirmed in Knoxville. Barb said all WBL players who were present at the Hall of Fame ceremony were asked to stand on the stage with the current class of inductees.
“I wasn’t sure how they would get 109 of us on one stage but they read the name of each person who was there. We really appreciated it,” she said.