Law school and basketball by
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Prompted By Sports

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I never liked gym class in high school. I loathed all those sports where you had to hit objects that were hurtling towards you — soccer, baseball, volleyball, tennis, and the most dreaded field hockey. The one sport I somewhat enjoyed was basketball, because I was tall and could occasionally make a basket. But I distinctly remember telling my gym teacher at the end of senior year that the reason I had decided to go to Radcliffe was that they had no physical education requirement!

How basketball saved my sanity in law school.

Fast forward six years to 1974, and I found myself in law school at UC Davis. Winter quarter one of my friends discovered that there was an intramural women’s basketball league that we were eligible to play in. So she asked me to join the team, along with several other classmates. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. It turned out that all the other teams in the league were undergraduates, so they were younger than we were, and in better shape, for the most part. It also turned out that SOMEONE HAD CHANGED THE RULES since I was in high school. Under the rules of girls’ basketball that I knew, you only played on half of the court. The forwards stayed near their own basket and the guards stayed near the other team’s basket. One person was designated as a rover, and she was the only one who was allowed to cross the center line. If anyone else crossed the line, she was out of bounds. Also, we were only allowed to dribble the ball 3 times before passing. If there was a 4th bounce, that constituted traveling. Under the new rules, we discovered, we were expected to run up and down the entire length of the court — numerous times! — and to dribble in such a way that we were actually handling the ball. OMG! Our first game was a disaster. I think the final score was something like 78-2, and we were amazed that we even managed to get those two points!

Although we all felt as if we were going to die after all the unaccustomed running in that first game, for some reason we stuck with it. We got ourselves a coach, who was a male classmate who had played serious b’ball in college. We had practices, and we learned all the skills that we had never been taught growing up. Fast break, pick and roll, who knew there was so much complexity to the game! Gradually we started holding our own, and the word spread around the law school. The next year, we had enough interested women to have two law school teams in the league, and by third year we had enough law school teams that we had our own league. Everybody wanted to get in on the fun! Much better than constitutional law or trusts and estates!! All our teams got team t-shirts and matching socks, and we actually played pretty decent basketball. And my team, the Satin Pumps, was the league champion! We had come a long way, baby! Basketball turned out to be, unquestionably, my best memory from law school, and the thing that saved my sanity.

Satin Pumps

Here is a picture of the Satin Pumps, with our coach on the right (partially cut off, unfortunately). Our captain, Denise, is kneeling in front with the ball. I am the one with the braids, second from the left.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You go girl! That game really did change and you kept at it, maybe huffing and puffing, but learning new rules and spreading the word that this was fun too. You took us on the journey with you, we had fun too. I’m a little out of breath.

  2. John Zussman says:

    I can see the movie now. “The Satin Pumps” — it’s “The Paper Chase” meets “Hoosiers!” Great story, thanks for sharing.

  3. PZ says:

    The Satin Pumps? Greatest team name ever!! Thanks for reviewing the half court rules, I’d forgotten the nuances. I never thought running the length of the court was the problem–but lowering the basket for kids would have made the game more interesting. Now there’s even a women’s ball–slightly smaller and lighter.

  4. Love your horror at discovering what full-court play implied. A great discover description of rule changes. Let’s hear it for Title IX! I can imagine what a relief it must have been to leave the torts and hit the courts. I think John Z has a great idea for a film pitch. Shucks… Who can forget “A League of Their Own”? And I’m guessing there wasn’t much crying in the ranks of the Satin Pumps!

  5. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific story, Suzy. And thanks for reminding me of all the arcane rules of women’s basketball; I had forgotten some of them (though remembered the “rover” and all the stupid insults about the “dog” who got to play it). And I can relate to the great benefits of women’s basketball in law school. The best woman player in my class — although only five feet tall — was Mary Jo White, who ended up being Chair of the SEC (and I don’t mean the South Eastern Conference).

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, I never heard those “rover” insults, but then again I was never the rover. Seems like your classmate Mary Jo has done more with her legal education than I did. I was amused to find, when I googled her, an article with the headline “Just How Rich is Mary Jo White?”

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