Billie Moore, who was the first US Olympic women’s basketball coach and led UCLA to the 1978 national championship, died Wednesday night at her California home. She was 79 years old.
Moore had been admitted to a hospice with cancer.
She led the Americans to a silver medal at the 1976 Montreal Games, a watershed moment for women’s basketball during its Summer Olympics debut.
“She was a very organized coach and always understood the composition of her team,” said 1976 Olympian and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman. “Like all great coaches, she just had an idea about the game. She helped me take my IQ and my understanding of basketball to another level.”
Moore coached Cal State Fullerton to a national championship in 1970, the year before the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women began. In 1978, with stars Ann Meyers, Anita Ortega and Denise Curry, Moore led UCLA to the AIAW National Championship.
She coached at Cal State Fullerton from 1969 to 1977 and at UCLA from 1977 to 1993. She is the winningest women’s basketball coach at UCLA (296-181) and was 436-196 overall as a college coach.
“The depth of Billie Moore’s impact is hard to put into words,” current UCLA women’s coach Cori Close said in a statement. “I am acutely aware that I can walk in the path blazed by Billie Moore. A truly extraordinary life, well lived.”
With the Olympic team, Moore coached Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, who coached the 1984 Olympic team. Summitt, who died in 2016, has always credited Moore as one of her most influential mentors.
Moore was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. She and Summitt were inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame that same year when that facility opened in Knoxville, Tennessee.
USA Basketball honors the life and legacy of Billie Moore, who was the first US Olympic women’s coach in 1976 and led the United States to a silver medal.
His legendary career spanned 4 decades. We are proud to have been part of his journey. Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this time. pic.twitter.com/EsLllxRWo9
— USA basketball (@usabasketball) December 15, 2022
Born in Humansville, Missouri, in 1943, Moore later moved with her family to Kansas, where she attended high school. She didn’t have the opportunity to play basketball in high school, but she did compete for a local industrial team. She was also a competitive softball player in an industrial league. She is a graduate of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
US women had been competing internationally for years, including at world championships (now called the FIBA World Cup) since the 1950s. But it took years of lobbying for the Summer Olympics to include women’s basketball. Moore was a team assistant at the 1975 Pan Am Games before taking on the role of Olympic coach.
Moore told ESPN in January that there were virtually no organizational funds available for the U.S. women’s basketball team to train or travel for the 1976 Olympics. However, women’s basketball stakeholders realized this, organizing camps regional test.
The team was selected and then had its primary training camp at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri, about 70 miles from where Moore was born. The US contingent relied on the university for free housing and local businesses for donated meals.
“Anything we could do, we did it even on a shoestring budget,” Moore told ESPN. “[Assistant coach] Sue Gunter and I would do anything — speak at a Rotary club, give a clinic or something — to get a free team meal.
“We spent about two weeks in Warrensburg getting quality ready for the Olympics. Then we went to Hamilton, Ontario to qualify. We won gold there and then had about nine days before the Olympics with no place to stay. L The United States Olympic committee didn’t expect us to get this far.”
Moore sought help from Kodak, a company based in Rochester, New York, and sponsored the women’s college basketball All-American team. Kodak helped arrange dormitory accommodation and training at the University of Rochester.
“Actually, we stayed in a section of the dorm that was still under construction,” Moore said. “We haven’t had a single complaint from the players. They were so excited that we were going to the Olympics. We had local male players to help us shuffle.”
At the 1976 Games, the United States went 3-2 in a five-game round robin to earn the silver medal behind the undefeated Soviet Union team.
“The depth of Billie Moore’s impact is hard to put into words. I am keenly aware that I can walk the path Billie Moore blazed. A truly extraordinary life, well lived.”
UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close
The United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, then won gold under Summitt at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. U.S. women have won Olympic gold in basketball at every Olympics since then except 1992. The Americans have a streak of seven consecutive golds.
“I always think there are moments or achievements that can be like a stepping stone for things to move forward,” Moore said. “Title IX was one of those things. And I thought if we could win a medal at the Montreal Olympics, that could serve as a stepping stone for the growth of women’s basketball.”
At UCLA, Moore’s team went 27-3 in 1977-78, defeating Montclair State in the semifinals of the AIAW and Maryland in the championship game. Meyers was drafted by the Indiana Pacers, even though she didn’t play for the NBA team. Moore also coached UCLA to the 1979 AIAW Final Four, where the Bruins fell to eventual champion Old Dominion in the semifinals, for whom Lieberman played.
“I could go to Billie in my best moments and my worst moments,” Lieberman said. “She was amazing to me. She was more than a mentor. She was a friend. And I know what she did for me, she did for so many other people.”