Rebecca Lobo's Incredible Journey to Basketball Royalty
When RuthAnn Lobo became pregnant with her third child in 1973, her doctor looked her in the eye and said: “You know, you have a choice now.” RuthAnn chose another doctor.
Rebecca was born exactly nine months and two weeks after Roe v. Wade, in the first full year of Title IX. When Rebecca was in 5th grade her teacher sent a note home informing RuthAnn that her youngest child needed to stop playing with the boys at recess and to start dressing like a girl. RuthAnn didn’t change her daughter’s clothes. She changed her daughter’s teacher.
There was a hoop in the driveway in Southwick, Mass., and Rebecca was content to shoot baskets all day, embracing routine like her father, who is now in his 51st year as a cross country and track coach at Granby Memorial High School, just across the border in Connecticut, home of the newly dedicated Dennis J. Lobo Track. Nietzsche said time is a flat circle, but to Dennis it’s a flat oval, parceled out a quarter of a mile at a time.
Rebecca grew up with two siblings—Jason and Rachel—a cat named Froot Loops, a dog called Nike and a guinea pig named Pinnywig. One evening Nike was sitting impassively in the front yard when a jogger pre-emptively maced him, at which time the jogger had to run for his life. Not from the German shepherd, mind you—from RuthAnn.
Dennis and RuthAnn sent Rebecca into the world armed with an iron will, a sense of humor and a medium range jump shot. When she chose to attend UConn over Stanford and Notre Dame, RuthAnn—a guidance counselor—said with a sigh: “UConn is a safety school.”
Even so, in her senior year at UConn, in 1995, the unbeaten Huskies defeated Tennessee in the national championship game, a watershed in women’s basketball, contested between two future Hall-of-Fame coaches: Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt.
A year after that title game, on one memorable day in Atlanta, Jason Lobo watched his kid sister’s team win the Olympic basketball final and he met an Olympic volunteer named Gundi Oberhoessel, to whom he proposed marriage three weeks later. “We came home with a gold medal," RuthAnn said, "and a daughter-in-law."
In 2001, at the Dublin House bar in Manhattan, Rebecca confronted an insecure sportswriter who had made a lame joke about women’s basketball and invited him to attend a WNBA game. Twenty-three months later, they—which is to say we—were married.
When RuthAnn died on July 19, 2011, the largest of the countless floral arrangements sent by her many admirers was from a kindred spirit named Pat Summit.
To our kids, Rebecca is now just Mom. She’s away 100 nights a year broadcasting basketball on ESPN and makes dinner the other 265—even if it’s charred meatballs on a white platter, a meal the kids have memorably dubbed Hate on a Plate. She’s the handy one around the house: baller, shot caller, window-treatment installer. She never lets me or the kids win at anything, including H-O-R-S-E, a muscle memory from all those childhood days spent jump-shooting in the driveway just outside Springfield, the birthplace of basketball.
And so there was a localized outbreak of goosebumps last April, when she sent me a text on a clear morning that read: tonight you’ll be sleeping with a hall-of-famer. From a strip-mall parking lot, I replied: yes! larry bird?
Last Friday, Rebecca was officially enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, escorted to the podium by Geno Auriemma. As she worked on her induction speech all week, Geno texted her: “I’m working on my walk.” RuthAnn wanted to see this, but told Rebecca as she was dying of the breast cancer she fought for 17 years: “I know it will happen.”
The Hall of Fame is 13 miles from Rebecca’s childhood driveway, but she took the scenic route there, through Siberia, the Canary Islands, Rio and countless other places where she played and now broadcasts the game she loves. The wife of former Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs once accused him of loving basketball more than he loved her. “Yes,” Tubbs replied, “but I love you more than track.”
If Rebecca should love basketball—and her father loves track—more than me, I’ll be content as the third party in a love triangle because basketball has given us four children, three nephews, endless laughs and inspiration. A retired gentleman greeted Rebecca at the Hall of Fame by repeating the WNBA’s first slogan. “We got next!” said David Stern.
“Is LeBron James in the Hall of Fame?” our 11-year-old daughter asked. When I answered no, our 6-year-old daughter said: “So Mom is better than LeBron?”
“Damn right,” I told her.