“Machine Gun” Molly played among America’s first professional women. Where is her Hall call?

When “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin arrived in San Francisco in 1980, the city and the Bay Area were ready for a new star.

“The sexiest shooter in basketball,” roared a Chronicle headline, alongside a photo of Bolin holding a fake machine gun. Commendable stuff, sure, but those were less woke times, and Bolin rode with them. How are you going to help professional women’s basketball take off if you don’t get people’s attention?

Bolin could do that, and she could play. She lit him up as the star of America’s premier women’s professional league, the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL), which lasted for three seasons, 1979-81. Bolin played his final season with the San Francisco Pioneers.

It can be argued that Bolin (now Kazmer) was the ultimate pioneer in women’s professional basketball. She helped chart a course that would lead to the formation of today’s WNBA.

This should earn Kazmer a spot in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Her nickname alone should get her in. No.

Naismith Hall holds its 2022 induction ceremony on Saturday, welcoming 16 new members. The Women’s Basketball Hall inducted its Class of 2022 in June — eight new members, including four in non-player categories.

Bolin? Well, every HOF has their rebuffs, but these rooms need to take a fresh look at Machine Gun Molly, per golly.

“It took our first generation of Title IX fighters to be really pioneering,” Kazmer said. “We were so UNtitled, so UNspoiled, we were so determined to get there that nothing was going to stop us. We had this attitude.

She still has it. Kazmer runs a small organization, Legends of Ball, dedicated to keeping the history of this league alive. All women who played in WBL players are Listed as a group in the Women’s Basketball HOF, inducted in 2018 into the Trailblazer of the Game category, but the league is largely forgotten. Have you ever heard of the Pioneers?

How about Machine Gun Molly?

Molly Bolin of the San Francisco Pioneers, February 27, 1981

Susan Gilbert / CFS

Monna Lea Van Venthuysen fell in love with basketball in her small hometown of Iowa, where high school girls played a hybrid form of the game – six players on each side, three on offense and three on defense, with no one crossing the middle of land, because the girls were thought to be fragile.

Molly, a flimsy 5-9 guard, scored 83 points in one game, 70 in another. She then played one season (regular basketball) at tiny Grand View College, married at 18, had a son, and retired from basketball.

Then she didn’t retire and played one more season at Grand View, averaging 24.6 points, and graduated in two years in 1978. Good timing! The WBL was kicking off, and the Iowa Cornets made Bolin the league’s first signing on a $6,000 salary.

It was a little league. The Cornets locked 12 players in two hotel rooms. But the competition was real. In the league’s second season, Bolin was co-MVP (along with superstar Ann Meyers) and she was the points champion, 32.8 points per game, which is still a women’s pro record.

When the Cornets ran out of money and folded, Bolin, after a momentary fling with another new league that quickly died, was picked up by the San Francisco Pioneers.

The Pioneers were in disarray, but they had just hired a new coach, Dean “The Dream” Meminger, a former key player on the Knicks’ last championship team.

Bolin and Meminger worked on his game for countless hours. Bolin and his teammates laughed at Meminger’s fiery obscenities and adored his hard-driving practices, reveling in their newfound status as true athletes.

Bolin, a one-dimensional gunner, was becoming a player. Remember, she was only four years away from half-court basketball.

“I basically got out of carpentry,” laughed Kazmer.

In the midseason All-Star Game, which featured future Naismith HOFers Carol Blazejowski, Nancy Lieberman and Meyers, Bolin led his team to victory with 29 points, making seven long-range shots in a row.

Bolin has led a strange basketball double life. She was tough. The season before, she scored 55 points in a game — still a women’s professional record — in which she dislocated her left shoulder in the second quarter.

Her look also made headlines. In 1981, a Sports Illustrated profiler wrote, “Suffice it to say, if good looks were a statistic, Molly Bolin would be in the Hall of Fame.

A fundamental question that players and the league wrestled with was: what are we selling? Pretty girls in make-up and shorts, or real female athletes sweating and competing? The discussion, with Bolin still featured, helped bring women’s basketball — and basketball in general — closer to the ideal world, where every player presents herself as she wishes.

With the Cornets, Bolin had supplemented his meager salary by selling autographed posters. In San Francisco, during a Pioneers photoshoot, someone handed her a toy machine gun, and the legend of the pretty girl with the deadly shot grew.

Under Meminger, the Pioneers grew and finished strong, winning seven of their last eight games. Then the league folded and Bolin was back on the streets.

Meminger told Sports Illustrated, “Molly doesn’t have the body type, the physical attributes, for talented people. But she has the smarts to know that with a little hard work, she’ll be there as long as there’s a league to play in.

Alas, there was the catch. There was no more league to play in. For the next decade — and this is where Bolin got some serious HOF credentials — she was a basketball wanderer, the woman displaying the frustration and futility of female athletes of that era.

In 1984, in the lead up to the Olympics, Kazmer toured with an All-Star team playing against the USA women’s team. Also in 1984, she played in the short-lived WABA, and in 1986 and 1996 she worked with the developers of two women’s leagues that never saw the light of day.

Even without a place to play, Bolin persisted, constantly playing – pickup games, men’s recreational leagues, always looking for a good run.

“The problem with playing professional basketball right out of college is that it ruins you for the rest of your life,” Kazmer said. “That’s all you want to do. There was no way I would ever have a real job. I was doing construction work for five bucks an hour and painting houses, so I would be free to play basketball. I spent some of the best years of my basketball career playing in men’s recreational leagues.

Playing in the recreational league isn’t a path to the Hall of Fame, but until Molly and her team started leading the way, there was Nope professionnal career.

“People don’t understand the lack of opportunity we had to overcome,” Kazmer said. “The opportunities just weren’t there. That’s the thing with the Hall of Fame – I don’t have that kind of resume, because I didn’t have access to it, the opportunity just wasn’t there.

Now the opportunity is there, because of the Pioneers, and the Pioneers, and Machine Gun Molly.

Scott Ostler is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: sostler@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @scottostler

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