USC has a storied athletic past — think football under Pete Carroll or baseball with Rod Dedeaux at the helm. But perhaps the greatest team to wear cardinal and gold dominated on the basketball court.
HBO Sports has partnered with Ringer Films and Triple Threat TV to present “Women of Troy,” a documentary that spotlights the star-studded USC women’s basketball team of the 1980s and how it paved the way for generations to follow. The film premieres March 10 at 6 p.m. on HBO.
The film dives into how former USC head coach Linda Sharp had already built a successful 1982 squad behind the McGee twins, Pamela and Paula, and future WNBA Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper. “Women of Troy” focuses on how unprecedented the team’s dominance became when star forward Cheryl Miller was added to the roster.
Through interviews with renowned basketball broadcaster Doris Burke, Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker, the McGee twins and Cooper, among others, the film captures not only Miller and her team’s prowess on the court, but their legacy off of it.
“The impact of Cheryl’s USC teams was on par with what Julius Erving did with the ABA,” said Bill Simmons, executive producer and founder of Ringer Films. “They took a sport that wasn’t on the map, reinvented it and paved the way for all the successes that women’s college basketball is enjoying now.”
Interviews with Miller provide authenticity to the tale, as she talks not only about her time in a USC jersey, but about beating her brother Reggie in backyard basketball and struggling to fit in with her peers on campus.
Perhaps the most touching moment of the documentary, though, is when Miller describes the ACL injury she suffered in a pickup game after her senior year of college — an injury that would be a disappointing setback today but was a career-ending ailment at the time. She was only 22 years old, and her playing career was over.
“I was robbed of a precious gift that at times I took for granted,” Miller said in the film. “I remember that great feeling of loss … like a toothless lion, no longer at the top of the food chain.”
Executive producer Gary Cohen said that despite Miller’s short career, he thinks of her as the best female basketball player of all time. He added that it was important for him to reintroduce people to the inspiring story of Miller and her team now that so many years have passed.
“I always remembered [Miller] as the greatest in the game,” he said at the film’s premiere. “30-plus years went by, and she was remembered by the people who love the sport but largely forgotten.”
While Miller is featured at the forefront of the film, “Women of Troy” also touches on Cooper’s career and personal life. Her path to success wasn’t smooth — she nearly quit the USC team to provide for her family, lost her brother and moved to Europe to pursue an early international basketball career.
Unlike Miller’s story, which is punctuated by her tragic injury, Cooper’s ending is more positive. She started playing in the WNBA during its inaugural 1997 season, was voted league MVP her first two years and ended up in the Hall of Fame.
“I hope this movie inspires the younger generation to fight hard for what you want … so that you can achieve anything no matter where you came from,” Cooper said. “That if you’re willing to put in the hard work and hang tight through the tough moments that life might bring you, you can literally go the distance.”
The documentary ends by showing Miller’s life after her playing career, including her recent role as the head coach of Cal State LA women’s basketball.
Although most of Miller’s former teammates are no longer involved in the basketball world, director Alison Ellwood said their impact is still apparent today.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be talking about women’s basketball. Without them, we wouldn’t be talking about equal pay for women’s basketball,” she said. “I hope the film continues the conversation about women’s basketball tomorrow, the next day and on and on.”