If you’re looking to watch a basketball story of empowerment or just want to start off March Madness right, then HBO Sports’ upcoming documentary “Women of Troy” is a must see.
Directed by Alison Ellwood (“History of Eagles,” “American Jihad”) “Women of Troy” explores how the Cheryl Miller-led USC Trojans women’s basketball team changed the sport forever with their up-tempo style and superior athleticism en route to winning back-to-back national championships, and eventually influenced the birth of the WNBA, through first-person interviews and archival photos and videos.
“This particular team changed basketball,” said Ellwood. “The team was infused with athleticism and were fast-paced. Cheryl Miller’s story was so interesting – she was the trajectory of being the best player at the time. There are so many dramatic layers in the story.”
The hourlong documentary begins with a brief introduction on the birth of the sport for women while transitioning to the collegiate ranks with Title XI and the early dominance of the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters during the AIAW and early women’s NCAA tournament years. Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and former Louisiana Tech coach Sonja Hogg, and former player and current Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey talk about the role the Lady Techsters played in the sport.
Then here comes Miller. She was the most decorated high school player at the time, and was once committed to UCLA. But after a talk during a sleepover with her future teammates, twins Paula and Pam McGee, Miller was convinced by them that USC was where she needed to play basketball in order to achieve her goals.
“Cheryl was such a transcendent figure in high school. I was surprised,” said Gary Cohen, executive producer of the film.
Miller reflects on more than her playing career that included two national titles and an Olympic gold medal. The film shows an authentic side to her that includes growing up with brother Reggie, fitting in at USC and her coaching and broadcasting careers post-USC.
However, the film is not all focused on Miller. Cynthia Cooper’s background and relationship with Miller is one of the main focal points the film covers.
“The moments of the honesty of Cheryl and Cynthia Cooper were some of my favorite moments,” said Ellwood.
The film does a great job covering Cooper’s story – she talks about growing up in Watts, her special relationship with her late brother Ricky, the adversity she faced trying to support her family while at USC and how she became the face of women’s basketball during the birth of the WNBA.
“The biggest challenge of this film was getting the structure right,” said Ellwood. “We wanted to make this one big game.”
Accompanied by Cooper and Miller are the McGee twins, who offer great commentary on Miller and Cooper, and their playing days at USC. But viewers will also see the closeness of the McGee twins. Other former players interviewed are Juliette Robinson and Rhonda Windham, along with former coaches Linda Sharp and Fred Williams.
“When we make films, there are responsibilities to tell the story well. The responsibility for this film was to tell the story of basketball and of these women as their lives,” said Cohen.
ESPN broadcaster Doris Burke offers great commentary on the team and the evolution of the sport for women. Current Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, the LA Sparks’ Candace Parker and UCLA Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Ann Meyers and Reggie Miller round out the diverse cast of interviewees.
The film overall does sum up how far women’s basketball has come since the early AIAW years and how players such as Miller and Cooper helped paved the way for future women’s basketball players.
“My hope is that young people who love the game watch this, especially women,” said Cohen. “I hope this resonates with women, just like the coverage of LeBron James resonates with all basketball fans.”
“I hope this film helps raise the pay in equity,” said Ellwood. “At the same time, it’s a Los Angeles story. It feeds off the time of the ‘Showtime Lakers’ with Magic (Johnson) and helped pivot the program to national prominence.”
“Women of Troy” debuts Tuesday at 7 p.m. on HBO, and will be also be available on HBO on Demand, HBO Now, HBO Go and partners’ streaming platforms.