Late 1960s women’s basketball star Denise Long had three 100-point games in high school, and became the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team, who just happened to be your Golden State Warriors.
It was a historic women’s basketball milestone this week when the Golden State Warriors announced they were getting a WNBA expansion team in 2025, bringing the trailblazing women’s basketball league to the Bay Area. And the Bay Area could be called the birthplace of women’s basketball, as the first ever women’s college basketball game was Stanford vs. Cal in 1896. But there’s some other obscure Bay Area women’s basketball history that a new KQED retrospective dives into: the fact that the Golden State Warriors actually drafted a woman player in 1969.
The image at the top of this post shows that player, Denise Long, when the Warriors invited her back in 2018 for an honorary jersey ceremony. But if you want to see Denise Long playing at the height of her talents in the 1969-70 season, the Warriors have some of this archival footage in a team video.
In the 1969 NBA Draft, the No. 1 pick was Lew Alcindor, drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks (you may home better as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or co-pilot Roger Murdoch in the 1980 spoof film Airplane!). And at the end of that draft, the then-San Francisco Warriors selected Denise Long, in the Brock Purdy-esque draft position of 175th overall in the 13th round. Long was an Iowa high school basketball star who had three 100-point games in her high school career.
In a 2020 New York Times retrospective on Long’s basketball career, Long recalls the 1969 conversation when her high school principal informed her she had just been drafted.
“Like the Army?” Rife said.
No, the San Francisco Warriors of the N.B.A.
“Do I have to go?” she asked.
She did, in fact, go. But then-NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy nullified the pick, because back then the NBA did not allow players to be drafted straight out of high school, and more significantly, did not allow women. It is widely considered that Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli made the pick as a publicity stunt.
But Long still played. That season, Mieuli started something called the “Warrior Girls Basketball League,” a four team league that played before Warriors games at the Cow Palace. According to the Times, “Mieuli paid for (Long) to attend the University of San Francisco, gave her $5,000 in expense money and leased a purple Jaguar for her to drive.” None of the other women were paid anything.
The stunt only lasted a year. But Long did get to meet many NBA stars like Wilt Chamberlain, who himself had a 100-point game in 1962, though Long technically “broke” Chamberlain’s record with an 111-point game in high school. Again, the Times recalls that conversation:
Chamberlain asked, “Aren’t you the young lady who broke my record?”
“Yes,” (Long) replied, “but I didn’t mean to.”
The Warrior Girls Basketball League folded after a year, and Long went back to her native Iowa, becoming Denise Rife upon marriage. According to the Des Moines Register, she became a pharmacist, worked for Osco and Walgreens, and retired in 2015.
Though if you’re a women’s basketball or history buff, below you can watch Long’s 1968 Iowa state championship game, where Long scored 64 points. Her Union-Whitten Cobras beat the Everly Cattlefeeders in overtime 113-107, in a game attended by 15,000 fans, and had an estimated television audience of 3.5 million viewers.
Image: Golden State Warriors via Youtube