She Shoots, She Scores

Sjansen@mercedsunstar.comOctober 12, 2012 

— Everywhere Carolyn Williams looked, she was surrounded by basketball royalty.

Turn one way and there's Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.

On the other side of the room, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Charles Barkley.

Some of the greatest basketball players were on hand last month at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., to honor Williams and the rest of the All American Red Heads, who became the first women's professional basketball team to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The Red Heads were part of a 2012 class that also included players like Reggie Miller, Ralph Sampson and Jamaal Wilkes, and former Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson.

Williams, 57, played one year with the Red Heads from 1975 to 1976. She traveled across the country, playing in more than 200 games.

"It's like, 'We're one of them, really? We're in the Hall of Fame like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, my idol?' " Williams said. "You'd see Pat Riley, Chris Mullin, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird. We were pretty much star struck. Charles Barkley came up to us and said welcome to the family. Some of them actually came up and asked if they could take a picture with us!"

The All American Red Heads were basically the female equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. The Red Heads debuted in 1936 and played until 1986. They traveled across the country, usually playing fund-raisers for schools against teams made up of coaches and other faculty, but also played games in Madison Square Garden and Chicago Stadium.

They played against men's teams and rarely lost. "The men didn't want to lose," said Red Head teammate Patty Bruce. "They broke my nose. They did not want a girl to beat them."

The 5-foot-10 Williams was recruited for the team while playing at Chico State. She was invited to a basketball camp in Mississippi during the summer of 1975. There, she was asked to join the Red Heads.

She decided to take a year off of school to run with the team. There was just one stipulation: Williams had to dye her blonde hair red.

"She was tall and she could shoot," Bruce said. "She dribbled and juggled. We had to put on a halftime show like the Harlem Globetrotters. We all had to have little tricks."

Williams worked hard to learn her tricks. She returned from the camp in Mississippi for two months before the Red Heads went out on the road. During that time, she worked out every day at De Anza Junior College in Cupertino. She played pick-up games, and worked on spinning basketballs on her fingers and ball handling.

She then hit the road with the team in an old Buick station wagon.

Williams kept a ledger of all her games. She scored 39 points in Virginia in 1975. She had a 32-point game in New Mexico in January of 1976.

She even played a game in Atwater on Jan. 26, 1976. Little did she know she would eventually move to Atwater and teach in the Atwater Elementary School District for 26 years.

There were plenty of other highlights from the road.

In Portland, the the NBA's Trailblazers invited the Red Heads to sit on the bench with them.

One of her favorite moments was getting to see Secretariat on a visit to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.

"We got to take pictures with him," Williams said. "I love horses so that experience was right up there at the top for me, personally."

In all, Williams traveled 45,758 miles during her one year with the team.

She was paid $400 to $600 per month and $6 per day for meals. "It wasn't about the money. It was about playing basketball," Williams said.

"It was tough. The men are quicker, faster and stronger. You knew when you boxed out they were going to come over the top of you. Sometimes they were polite, but we would tell them, 'Come on, you have to play.' "

Williams has stayed close to her teammates and many of the other All American Red Heads over the years.

Sixty-five former Red Head players showed up for the Hall of Fame ceremonies.

"It was awesome," Williams said. "I don't know what else to say. ...

"Never in a million years did I think this would happen, ever."

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