The Warriors made history 50 years ago when they drafted Denise Long, the queen of 6-on-6

Yahoo Sports
Denise Long was the first woman drafted by an NBA team, and played for the only "professional" women's league to exist until the WNBA was founded in 1996. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Denise Long was the first woman drafted by an NBA team, and played for the only "professional" women's league to exist until the WNBA was founded in 1996. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

Fifty years ago, before the WNBA, before NCAA women’s basketball, and before Title IX, the Golden State Warriors did something no other NBA team had ever done before. In the 13th round of the 1969 draft, the Warriors drafted a woman.

Denise Long, who was profiled by the Des Moines Register to commemorate the anniversary of her symbolic achievement, was a 19-year-old shooting whiz from Whitten, Iowa when she was drafted. She played in the era of high-scoring 6-on-6 basketball, which was largely played by women and girls. Each team had three forwards and three guards; only the forwards could shoot and the guards only played defense. Dribbles were limited and every basket was worth two points.

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It was like cramming together two games of half-court three-on-three, and scores would routinely top 200 points. Long was a scoring machine who loved to play, and could score over 100 points in a single game. When her 34-person class at Union-Whitten High School couldn’t provide all the players for a team, she recruited them herself.

That team, which included her cousin Cyndy Long, was one of 16 chosen out of 500 to participate in the girls’ state tournament in 1968. The Long cousins led Union-Whitten to a state title that year, and the final game against Everly — played in front of 15,000 fans — is considered the best girls’ basketball game in state history.

Long’s deeds on the court were so impressive that she was written up by Sports Illustrated. If this happened today, Long would be inundated with scholarship offers. But when Union-Whitten lost the title in 1969, three years before Title IX and 13 years before the NCAA officially sponsored women’s basketball at colleges and universities, Long figured that she was at the end of her career.

But she wasn’t quite at the end just yet. Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli had heard about Long’s shooting talent and her ability at six-on-six, and decided a publicity stunt was in order. That’s how Long became the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team.

The purpose of the stunt wasn’t to actually get Long on an NBA team (the commissioner vetoed the pick). It was to start a women’s pro basketball league, with Long as its star. Mieuli didn’t actually pay the players so it wasn’t really a “professional” league, but it did exist for one season. Four teams played a modified version of six-on-six before Warriors games and during halftime, and Long said that “it was fun to be a part of the Warriors’ family.”

Long, who tallied 6,250 points in her high school career (which was a record until 1987) without the aid of three-pointers, went to college after the “professional” league dissolved, and eventually earned two degrees. She lives with her husband and six dogs in Rose Hill, Kansas, but was happy to make the trip the West Coast to be honored by the Warriors in 2018.

Long’s basketball story came to an end too early, but her talent allowed her to make a mark in basketball at a time when women struggled to be taken seriously in athletics. Who knows what would have happened if there had been a serious women’s league when Long was 19, or even just organized women’s college basketball. We can only wonder.

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