Billie Moore, who was the first U.S. Olympic women’s basketball coach and led UCLA to the 1978 national championship, died Wednesday night at her home in California. She was 79.
Moore had been in hospice care with cancer.
She led the Americans to the silver medal at the 1976 Montreal Games, a breakthrough moment for women’s basketball during its Summer Olympics debut.
“She was a coach who was very highly organized, and she always understood the makeup of her team,” 1976 Olympian and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman said. “Like all great coaches, she just had a feel for the game. She helped take my basketball IQ and understanding 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 star players 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 UCLA from 1977 to 1993. She is UCLA’s winningest women’s basketball coach (296-181) and was 436-196 overall as a college coach.
“It is hard to put into the words the depth of Billie Moore’s impact,” current UCLA women’s coach Cori Close said in a statement. “I am keenly aware that I get to walk on the trail that Billie Moore blazed. A truly remarkable life well lived.”
With the Olympic team, Moore coached Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, who coached the Olympic team in 1984. Summitt, who died in 2016, 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 & legacy of Billie Moore, who was the first U.S. Olympic Women’s coach in 1976 & led the USA to a silver medal.
Her storied career spanned 4 decades. We are proud to have been part of her journey. Our thoughts are with her 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 high school basketball but did compete for a local industrial team. She was also a competitive softball player in an industrial league. She graduated from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
The U.S. women had been competing internationally for years, including at the 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 an assistant on the 1975 Pan Am Games team before taking over as 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. Still, women’s basketball stakeholders figured it out, organizing regional tryout camps.
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 had been born. The U.S. contingent relied on the university for free lodging and on local businesses for donated meals.
“Whatever we could do, we did on not even 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 meal for the team.
“We had about two weeks in Warrensburg to get ready to quality 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. The U.S. Olympic committee hadn’t planned on us making it that far.”
Moore turned to get help from Kodak, a company based in Rochester, New York, and has sponsored the women’s college basketball All-American team. Kodak helped arrange lodging at a dorm and training at the University of Rochester.
“We stayed in a dorm section there that was still under construction, to be honest,” Moore said. “We didn’t have a single complaint from the players. They were just so thrilled we were going to the Olympics. We got local men’s players to come help us scrimmage.”
At the 1976 Games, the United States went 3-2 in a five-game round-robin format to earn the silver medal behind the undefeated Soviet Union squad.
“It is hard to put into the words the depth of Billie Moore’s impact. I am keenly aware that I get to walk on the trail that Billie Moore blazed. A truly remarkable 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. The U.S. women have won the Olympic gold in basketball in every Olympics since then except for 1992. The Americans are on a streak of seven golds in a row.
“I always think there are moments or accomplishments that can be like a trampoline to spring things forward,” Moore said. “Title IX was one of those things. And I thought if we could medal at the Montreal Olympics, that could act as a springboard for the growth of women’s basketball.”
At UCLA, Moore’s team went 27-3 in 1977-78, defeating Montclair State in the AIAW semifinals and Maryland in the championship game. Meyers was drafted by the Indiana Pacers, although she did not play for the NBA team. Moore also coached UCLA to the 1979 AIAW Final Four, where the Bruins fell in the semifinals to eventual champion Old Dominion, 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.”