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On Writing

Filtering by Tag: Molly Bolin

Writing the biography of a legend: Molly Bolin

Stephen H. Provost

Some people read romance novels for pleasure. Others read science fiction. In my youth, I was smitten by the Tolkien bug and went on a binge of epic fantasy, but these days, I have a different guilty pleasure: I read rock star biographies. Sammy Hagar. Freddie Mercury. Zeppelin. All four members of KISS.

For a while, I’ve wanted to write a biography of my own. Not a memoir, and certainly not an autobiography. I’m not in the business of putting people to sleep.

My friend Anne R. Allen, an author one of the premier bloggers on the business of writing, makes some good points in a recent piece on memoirs. The three that stood out to me were:

  • Tell a page-turning story.

  • Focus on significant and unique personal experience, especially when tied to a well-known person or event (emphasis mine).

  • Remember that a memoir, like a novel, is read for entertainment.

The first and the third points are closely related, and all three together are the criteria I use when deciding to read a biography. Plain and simple: I want to find out more than I already know ... about someone I already know about. And I want that “more” to be entertaining.

But as an author, I want my stories to be original. I don’t have much interest in writing yet another biography about Freddie Mercury, no matter how big a fan I may be (and I am). That story’s been told, and no one needs me to tell it yet again. One of my main objectives as an author has always been originality. I wanted to write the definitive history of Fresno in the Baby Boom years in 2015 and of U.S. Highway 99 in 2017, because no one else had done it.  

As you might imagine, this quest for originality becomes more challenging in the realm of biography. If you write about a regular, average person, who wants to read that – unless the story is knock-your-socks-off incredible. But most well-known public figures have already been featured in biographies written by better-known authors than I. So, my desire to write a biography has always been unfulfilled as I waited for the “perfect” subject I suspected would never come along.

Then, she did. The result is The Legend of Molly Bolin.

Out of the blue

The irony is that this book came about because of another project that was more a labor of love than anything else. I didn’t write A Whole Different League (AWDL) to be a big seller; I wrote it because I had grown up as a sports fan and had always been fascinated about leagues that didn’t quite make it. I’d spent a decade working as a sportswriter at daily newspapers, yet I’d never written a sports book. I figured it was time to do so.

Writing AWDL, like reading rock star biographies, was something of a guilty pleasure for me – so much so that I wrote it in fits and starts over the course of two years, putting it down to write something I thought would be more marketable before picking it up again between projects. I had the first draft all but done when I remembered the Women’s Basketball League from the late 1970s, which had lasted three years and featured the likes of Ann Meyers, Carol Blazejowski, Nancy Lieberman ... and Molly Bolin.

The odd thing was, I’d never heard of Molly. But what made that even stranger is that she had scored more points than any of them. More points in a season. More points in a game. More points in a playoff game. More points in a half. More points in a career. The fact that the premier scorer in the first women’s pro basketball league had somehow flown under my radar piqued my interest, so I started doing some more research. I found out that she had remarried and was now Molly Kazmer, so I took a flyer and looked her up on social media.

Lo and behold, she answered my request and wound up providing me with some great firsthand information about the WBL for that final chapter. But the more she told me, the more I became convinced that her story alone would make a fascinating book. Had anyone else written one on her? Had she ever considered writing one herself?

By fortuitous happenstance, the answers were “no” and “yes,” respectively. In fact, she had been accumulating a wealth of photos, newspaper clips and other memorabilia to someday document her life and career. I suggested to her that “someday” might be now: Would she consider working with me to tell her story?

Again, the answer was “yes,” and for the next 10 weeks or so, we communicated almost daily as I wove together her life’s story from a combination of her many recollections, media resources and interviews with contemporaries – many of whom had amazing stories of their own to tell. There was Tanya Crevier, the 5-foot-3 ballhandling wizard who played three years of pro ball with Molly and still performs an amazing and inspirational show worthy of the Harlem Globetrotters for people around the world. Then there was Greg Williams, the only person to coach women’s championship teams in three different pro leagues, on top of an impressive Division I college resume. He not only was kind enough to sit for an extensive phone interview, but he agreed to write the foreword.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

An amazing story

Even with all that, though, Molly was the star of the show. Not only was she the top scorer in the first women’s pro league, she was the first player to ever sign. She went from a benchwarmer during the first half of her rookie season – to the team’s offensive star, even though she was young enough to have been a junior in college.

She adapted her game from Iowa’s old 6-on-6 rules (three offensive players always in the frontcourt; three defenders confined to the other half of the hardwood). But not only that, she turned it to her advantage by using a quick stop-and-shoot style that presaged the modern jump shot practiced by the likes of Stephen Curry – to whom she’s been compared. Or, perhaps, he’s been compared to her.

She even won a precedent-setting court case and helped pave the way for today’s merchandising boom by pro athletes such as Michael Jordan and LeBron James, when she came up with a marketing strategy that made her basketball’s answer to Farrah Fawcett. Stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Pete Maravich, Martina Navratilova and Rick Barry play a part in the narrative, too.

I won’t give anything more away (you’ve got to buy the book!), but I will say this: The Legend of Molly Bolin is everything a great biography should be – and not because I wrote it. It was simply a great story waiting to be told, and I had honor of being the one to tell it.

The story isn’t just about Molly. It’s about all the players, coaches and executives who made history by taking part in the WBL and other early women’s leagues. People like Althea Gwyn, Doris Draving, Cardte Hicks, Connie Kunzmann, Robin Tucker, Rita Easterling, Janie Fincher and Tanya Crevier. The league was inducted as a whole into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame last year as Trailblazers of the Game, and deservedly so.

But there are at least a few members of the old WBL who deserve to be inducted individually, as players like Meyers, Blazejowski, Lusia Harris and Lieberman have been. After all, if a Stevie Nicks can join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Fleetwood Mac and a solo artist, it only makes sense to bestow the same kind of honor on a Molly Bolin.

Like one of her jump shots, it ought to be a sure thing.

 

 

 

New book recalls outlaw leagues, forgotten teams

Stephen H. Provost

I’ve always been a sports fan. Well, maybe not always, but at least since I started watching football as a preteen. My father followed all the L.A. teams, so I did, too. I collected baseball cards, followed the box scores in the newspaper and parked myself on the sofa every Saturday and Sunday to watch six hours of football – shouting at the TV every time the ref made a lousy call.

My parents and I attended half a dozen Dodgers games each year, and my dad took me to see a Lakers game and a Rams game. We lived next door to the Dodgers’ left fielder at the time, Bill Buckner, and he got me a ticket to see a game in the 1974 National League Championship Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a World Series game against Oakland that same year.

But I wasn’t just a fan of the major sports. Dad took me to an L.A. Aztecs soccer game at the Rose Bowl, where the 9,000 fans looked lost in a sea of 100,000 seats. I also saw Steve Young play a game for the L.A. Express. I loved the ABA’s 3-point shot and the USFL’s two-point conversion, and I followed the Southern California Sun in the old WFL. I even remember watching Dick Lane announce “World Champion L.A. T-Bird” roller games on syndicated TV. They were more spectacle than sport, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Memories from my childhood tend to find their way into books, as they did with Fresno Growing Up and Highway 99. So it is also with A Whole Different League, my latest release, an extensive look at outlaw leagues, forgotten teams and the players who made them great – or at least interesting – of only for a brief moment in time.

The work covers more than two dozen big (and wannabe big) leagues, most of which receive an entire chapter’s worth of information. Their founders were innovators who broke down racial barriers and ushered in the era of free agency. They gave us the three-point shot, which changed the way basketball is played today. With names like the WHA, AAFC and All-American Girls Pro Baseball League, they fielded teams with names like the Chicago Whales and Philadelphia Bell. They were upstarts and outcasts, playing in rundown arenas and without TV contracts but making the kind of memories you don’t find in prime time.

Writing the book

I started this project a couple of years ago, picked it up again, then put it down before finally finishing it this year. It was one of those ideas that just kept its hooks in me and wouldn’t let go, and I’m glad it didn’t. It’s the first book I’ve published on my own imprint (Dragon Crown Books) that includes photos and statistical tables, and it’s also the first in a larger format: 8 by 10 instead of the standard 6 by 9.

It was an involved process, to say the least. The research involved sifting through more than 400 newspaper articles, magazine pieces, websites and books on everything from the National Bowling League to the Negro Leagues, from the All-America Football Conference to the All-American Girls Baseball League. Even Roller Derby. I thought I’d almost reached the end of it when I remembered the Women’s Basketball League that ran for three seasons starting in the late 1970s.

I got in touch with Molly Bolin (now Kazmer), the league’s all-time leading scorer, who in turn put me in touch with Cardte Hicks, the first woman to dunk in competition. Both were kind enough to share their memories of the WBL, whose members were inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame last summer as “trailblazers of the game.” If you’ve never heard of either of these great athletes, that’s part of the reason I wrote this book.

Writing historical nonfiction is not only a trip down memory lane for me, it’s also a journey of new discovery. This book was no exception. If you enjoyed accompanying me on my scavenger hunt of old U.S. Highway 99, chances are you’ll enjoy this work, too. And there’s more where that came from: Forthcoming books will focus on U.S. Highway 101 and the history of American department stores/shopping malls.

Inside

A Whole Different League contains stories of:

  • The high-scoring basketball star who was so volatile an opposing team once hired five boxers to stand guard at courtside – and who disappeared, never to be heard from again, on a trip to Africa.

  • The Hall of Famer who came out of retirement at age 45 to play alongside his two sons, leading his new team to a championship and winning the MVP Award.

  • George Steinbrenner’s first big signing: the two-time college basketball player of the year.

  • The NBA legend whose poor eyesight led to him to design the ABA’s red-white-and-blue basketball. 

  • Miami’s first pro football team, which was almost as bad as the 1972 Dolphins were good.   

  • The man who built Wrigley Field and the team that played there before the Cubs called it home.

  • The first pro baseball game played under the lights at Wrigley – more than 40 years before the Cubs played their first night game there.

  • The hard-partying skater who signed the richest contract in pro sports but wound up sleeping on a park bench after he lost it all.

  • The team owner who warned Donald Trump he'd have "no regrets whatsoever" punching him “right in the mouth.” 

  • The batting champion who hit like Ty Cobb but was banned from baseball. (No, it’s not Shoeless Joe Jackson.)

  • The team that was supposed to bring NFL football to Los Angeles nine years before the Rams moved west from Cleveland.Jackie Robinson’s professional debut – in football.

  • The man who set a record for the most points scored in a pro basketball game, even though he averaged fewer than 12 points a game that season.

  • The man who coached pro teams to championships in three different leagues.

And that’s just the beginning. At 334 pages, it’s the second-longest book I’ve written (behind the two-volume work, The Phoenix Principle). A Whole Different League is available now on Amazon. I had a great time writing it, and I hope you’ll have just as much fun reading it.