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The All-Time Leading Scorer In Women’s College Basketball Is Finally Getting Her Due

Pearl Moore scored 3,884 points for Francis Marion College,1 near her native Florence, South Carolina, and another 177 points during one semester at Anderson Junior College.2 She averaged over 30 points a game from 1976 through 1979. In a single game in 1978, she scored 60 — a collegiate record at the time.

All before the women’s game adopted the 3-point line.

“Most observers of women’s basketball in South Carolina are of the consensus opinion that Pearl Moore is something special,” wrote Gene Able of The State in Columbia, South Carolina., in 1978.

For her contributions to the game, Moore — the all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball — will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday. She is an entry from the Women’s Veterans Committee, which was established in 2018 to honor historical contributors who’d been retired from the game for 35 years or more. She will be presented by her Francis Marion coach, Sylvia Hatchell — who entered the Hall of Fame in 2013.

A point guard, Moore was listed at 5-foot-7, though she says she’s 5-foot-5. But her size didn’t stop her on the court.


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“If you could outthink somebody, then you can get to wherever you wanna go,” she said. “And I think 4,000 is a lot of points, but that was rebounding, steals, shooting. I think the most I shot in a game was 35 times. And you may think that’s a lot of shots, but that could have been six or seven steals, and rebound putbacks.” 

She would post up, assist, rebound, whatever

Able said as much in ‘78. “Moore is more than the pure shooter. She has classy moves that allow her to get free from just about any kind of defense. She hits a high percentage of her shots from drives to long, outside sets with jump shots and short bankers punctuating her versatility. The things you don’t notice about a player like Pearl Moore are her rebounding, especially on offense, her passing and her defense.”

Moore, Hatchell told the Knoxville News Sentinel, “was ahead of her time.”

Moore’s first basketball experiences included rubber balls, beach balls, tire rims and peach baskets. She loved watching left-handed Gail Goodrich, also a Hall of Famer, of the L.A. Lakers.

Kyle Lowry lines up a shot.

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The South Carolina native grew up on a farm, one of 11 siblings, and worked on the land until the family moved. “We had this stuff like tobacco, and corn, and cotton, pigs and hogs,” she said. “I think maybe two or three cows, and a couple mills to work farms with.”

As a ninth grader at Wilson High School, she didn’t try out for the team initially, but the coach saw her shooting in the gym. The team held a second tryout, and she made it.

“The more I played, the easier it got because I played with a lot of guys, my brothers and the guys [at] the park,” she said. “Being young like that, you shoot a couple different ways ’til you get strong enough to actually get it up there.” 

Moore enrolled at Anderson in 1975, but she found herself going back home every weekend and decided to transfer. The Francis Marion campus was only about 10 minutes away. 

As Moore recalls it, her high school coach, Anne Long, called Hatchell. Moore showed up with her brother Jeffrey, and they proceeded to play two-on-two at Wilson High School.

Sylvia and Jeffrey vs. Anne and Pearl in a pick-up game.

“And the next thing I know,” Moore said, “I was at Francis Marion.”

But why isn’t Moore, with her 4,061 total points scored, sitting atop the NCAA’s list of leading scorers? Why do Kelsey Plum’s 3,527 points at Washington lead the record books — or Jackie Stiles’s 3,393 at Southwest Missouri State3 before Plum? 

The NCAA didn’t add women’s basketball as an official sport until the 1981-82 season, two years after Moore graduated from Francis Marion — and it doesn’t include statistics from before then as part of its history. Moore played in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). So did Lynette Woodard, who held the large-school record with 3,649 points at Kansas. 

Moore’s games weren’t televised, the ball was bigger than it is now, and, again, there was no 3-point line. Title IX was passed in 1972; she started at Anderson in 1975.

“Title IX was just coming out when I was [playing],” she said. “Naismith asked us for memorabilia from college, I still had a letter jacket. I can’t believe I had a letter jacket. It’s a windbreaker with a lining on the inside. We only had one pair of shoes. You didn’t get to keep the uniform.”

In 1979, the New York Stars of the Women’s Professional Basketball League drafted Moore at No. 11. Also playing in New York at the time was the Knicks’ Earl Monroe, who was nicknamed “The Pearl.” Moore doesn’t remember how Monroe’s nickname led back to her, but she ended up labeled as “Pearl (the Earl)” in some newspapers, including the New York Daily News. She didn’t care for the moniker. “I prefer Pearl, as my mom and dad named me,” she said.

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Plus, Pearl doesn’t like attention or public speaking. She said on the “Two Feet In” podcast, “I just don’t think I’m all of that. I just wanna be me and subtle about it.” She’s nervous about her Hall of Fame speech, and she hopes she doesn’t embarrass South Carolina.

Despite her prolific scoring, she didn’t want to stand out. She wanted to win, and she cared about team chemistry. Two stories from her playing days reflect that: When she played for the St. Louis Streak, she was upset when she was given a jersey with her first name on it while everyone else had their last names. Or when she was playing in Venezuela, she suggested her coach keep her out of the starting lineup to throw off the other team’s game plan.

“The only thing I was thinking about, the ultimate goal, if I had to score a hundred points, was winning,” she said. “And I don’t care who scored it, but my ultimate goal was to win. When you shoot, the ball goes through the basket and you’re ready to play defense. That’s all I thought about.”

After the WBL folded in 1981, Moore played one season in South America before starting at Federal Express in 1984. She worked for years as a mail handler and a custodian while continuing to play pickup ball. She turned 40 the year the WNBA began, and she stopped playing in 1998, when she pulled her groin.

She’s now retired and living in Florence, helping out her brother who is recovering from an ankle injury. Her daily routine includes writing, reading scriptures and tending her brother’s garden.

Family has always been important to her.

On the same episode of “Two Feet In”, host Heather Macy asked: “If you could have one phone call to make, who would you call?”

“I would call my mother and father, and you know I can’t do that. My mom was alive, but she didn’t make it to the trip to Knoxville (for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction),” Moore said. “And they both are deceased now. To let them know, not that they don’t know. But to let them know how blessed I feel.” 

Her dad, Span, worked at 4:30 a.m., so he would often miss her games. But her mother, Lula, regularly saw Pearl play, traveling to games in New York or Spartanburg, at Francis Marion or Anderson, riding with her sons and sometimes the high school coach.

“I’m in five hall of fames: my college, my hometown, South Carolina, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and to be enshrined in September into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” Moore said. “And I guess my last Hall of Fame would be heaven.”


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Footnotes

  1. Now Francis Marion University.

  2. Now Anderson University.

  3. Now Missouri State.

Bria Felicien is an Atlanta-based writer and the founder of The Black Sportswoman.

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