Vanderbilt Athletics’s Andrew Maraniss discusses his newest book about U.S. women’s basketball

“Inaugural Ballers” tells the unheard story of the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team.

The cover of ‘Inaugural Ballers,’ to be published on Sept. 13, 2022.

Books Forward

The cover of ‘Inaugural Ballers,’ to be published on Sept. 13, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Books Forward)

Marissa Tessier, Staff Writer

When Vanderbilt Athletics Special Projects Coordinator Andrew Maraniss (‘92) isn’t busy coordinating Vanderbilt’s Sports & Society initiative, he spends his time writing. His latest book “Inaugural Ballers” tells the inspiring story of the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team and its hardships. 

The team, which played in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, faced trials on and off the court, including sexism and racism. Maraniss dives into these issues and puts a spotlight on the journey of some players and coaches.

What I attempted to do is tell their story in the context of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s,” Maraniss said. 

In line with this goal, Maraniss planned the book release to be in 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX

“There’s been so much discussion of progress in women’s sports over those 50 years but also challenges and much to be done to achieve true equity between men’s and women’s sports,” Maraniss said. “This basketball team came along first and opened a lot of doors for women athletes and even young girl athletes, and I felt that their story hadn’t been told before, so it was something I was eager to do.”

Maraniss described how his time at Vanderbilt inspired him to write about the team, specifically highlighting the influence of current Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director Candice Lee.

“My job at Vanderbilt as a special projects director is to manage the sports and society initiative where every day I work on projects that involve sports, race, gender and sexuality,” Maraniss said. “The second thing is my boss Candice Lee, who played basketball here and represents the very best of what Title IX has made possible. None of the women on the ‘76 Olympic team knew that somebody named Candice Lee would exist, but they did know that what they were doing was going to change things in this country and would create opportunities for new generations.”

Alumnus Andrew Maraniss, author of “Inaugural Ballers.”
Alumnus Andrew Maraniss, author of “Inaugural Ballers.” (Photo courtesy of Books Forward)
(Books Forward)

As someone who can barely sit through an entire basketball game, I couldn’t put the book down and often found myself tearing up while reading about the women’s inspirational journey. 

“What I really try to do is use the sports hook to capture the attention of readers who are interested in sports but who might not otherwise read a book about racism, homophobia, sexism or antisemitism, which is what my four books have been about,” Maraniss said. “Placing these sports stories in the context of the place and the time they existed in is what makes it more than just a sports book.”

Through the book, Maraniss shows the importance of sharing untold stories and the power that words can have when joined with action against inequitable systems. 

“In telling a story, my hope is that readers are inspired to act,” Maraniss said. “I hope that someone reading this book would be more likely to support women athletes and women, in general. At this time in history, it’s incumbent upon everyone to be fighting for women’s rights.”

As a reader, it was interesting to read about the different ways that the players were faced with adversity. For example, Maraniss describes how USA Basketball Executive Director Bill Wall didn’t believe that the U.S. women’s basketball team would qualify for the Olympics, so he booked their plane tickets back home before the qualifying tournament was over. When they won the qualifying game for the Olympics, they had no means of getting to Montreal and nowhere to sleep once they got there. 

“[Billie Moore] spent her holiday on the phone, desperately trying to find a place for her team to stay, rental cars to get them there, and money for food,” Maraniss writes. “The US Olympic Committee had created a staging area in Plattsburgh, New York, for Olympians to live in and train in before departing for Montreal. But nobody had anticipated that the women’s basketball team would qualify for the Olympics, and at least for the next ten days, there wasn’t any room for them.”

“Inaugural Ballers” will be released on September 13 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon