It’s been 37 years since the University of Southern California’s women’s basketball team nabbed back-to-back NCAA titles in 1983 and 1984. The powerhouse squad—including Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper, twins Paula and Pam McGee, and head coach Linda Sharp—garnered unprecedented media coverage at the time, and became the first collegiate women’s team in history to be invited to the White House. But their massive success didn’t just advance the USC basketball program.
It changed the sport of forever.
A new documentary from HBO rediscovers the college dynasty that defined women’s basketball, and finally gives the history-making team the recognition they deserve.
Produced in association with Bill Simmons’ Ringer Films, Women of Troy (now available to stream) tracks USC’s success through the rise of hoopster hero Cheryl Miller, who is considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of women’s basketball. Not only did she lead the team to victory, but she also helped create “the game we know and love today,” director Alison Ellwood told USA Today Sports.
Miller was known for her competitive fire and on-court flair—and she was the first women’s basketball player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But after an illustrious college career, she tore her ACL and had to quit the sport.
The film follows her lingering influence on basketball players today, from Candace Parker to LeBron James. “HBO did a heck of a job with this—I didn’t know it was going to be that thorough, but it was really, really awesome,” Miller told The Los Angeles Times. “It jogged a lot of great memories and emotions. What I took away from it was how they capture the essence and personalities of our team.”
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I discovered the film after finishing last Sunday’s episode of the ESPN docuseries The Last Dance. With the NBA, WNBA, and NCAA all suspended due to COVID-19, I was starved for more basketball content. Women of Troy served as a great, nostalgic source of entertainment.
And while it is a really lovely tribute to women in basketball, one sports historian points out that it fails to touch on racial barriers USC players faced in the 1980s. They didn’t play “white girl” basketball, Cat Ariail wrote in an article for SB Nation. The team played “black” basketball and Women of Troy “misses the opportunity to explore how the racialized history of women’s basketball shape[d] the influence and importance of Miller and her teammates.”
Still, the documentary feels especially poignant right now, given that in January the WNBA came to an agreement with players that will ensure higher pay. There’s a lot more work to be done in the fight for equitable pay and “balanced media portrayal,” Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter wrote for TIME, but for the first time in league history, WNBA average salaries will exceed six figures.
“There’s an entire infrastructure for the mythology of male sports heroes that isn’t [there] for women,” the film’s executive producer Gary Cohen told Sports Illustrated. “And that’s what we’re trying to change here. That’s the reason to do this now.”
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