UBC basketball player brought jump shot to women's game: obituary

Barbara Robertson played for the Thunderettes and coached at both UBC and SFU

jock and jill

Barbara Robertson helped shatter glass ceilings and might have shattered a few backboards if given the chance.

An athlete and educator who was widely credited with introducing the jump shot to women’s basketball when she was still a teenager, Robertson competed for UBC and Canada before becoming the head coach of the program at SFU where she was also named women’s athletic director and fought for equal scholarship funding for women’s sport.

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Robertson died March 24.

If you knew Barbara Robertson and have memories of her you’d like to share, please contact me at mstewart@vancourier.com or 604-630-3549.

I interviewed Robertson for a historical story on the Thunderbirds and still smile at the schooling I got that day. Knowing she was a feminist (or at least fought for feminist principles I admired; whether or not she identified as such, I don't know), I tried to show my solidarity by asking if I should refer to her as Ms.

She scoffed at me. "It's Dr. Robertson."

I did deserve that.

She was fierce. Now, as I read through her biographies available through the UBC and Basketball B.C. halls of fame, I don't see mention of doctoral studies, so I might have had a lapse of memory in the six years since our conversation. I can't be sure of what she said on our very first meeting on her front stoop, but whatever it was, it was in response to my opening hello. I got something wrong, so she set me straight --- and fast. I admired her.

As a UBC Thunderette in 1959, Robertson starred on the varsity team that won its first of two Western Canadian university basketball championships with her on the roster. While still 18 years old and enrolled in education that first year, Robertson began coaching the junior varsity team which she led for the next decade.

With a jump shot, Robertson was symbolic of the battle between regressive, gender-specific rules that separated the men's and women's game and the other notion that basketball has one set of rules played by everyone. By the late 1960s, basketball in Canada was under a unified rule book, and the sport was surging because it required little equipment and called on numerous players. 

She graduated from UBC in 1966 and was selected for the inaugural women’s national team that won bronze at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg. She returned to school for a counselling degree and since she still had a year of eligibility as a varsity athlete, Robertson made the field hockey team. In 1972, she applied for the head coaching job with the SFU women’s basketball team and went on to run it for 11 years. 

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