GLENDALE, Ariz. – During the Rebecca Lobo days of UConn basketball, hardly a day went by without news of her career in a Connecticut or Massachusetts newspaper. She was trending long before social media began and long before “hits” were being counting on the Internet.
Her fans and worshippers knew long ago about the basic values and work ethic that molded her, gave her a fundamental foundation to build on, and guided her maturation as a player and a young woman.
Saturday in the courtyard of an upscale shopping center across the street from the sprawling stadium hosting the men’s Final Four, Lobo’s journey took another a defining turn.
Along with Tracy McGrady, Bill Self, Muffet McGraw and others, UConn’s Lobo was introduced as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
Lobo got the call from the Hall of Fame early last week. It’s possible she didn’t need a plane to get to Dallas for the NCAA women’s Final Four semifinals Friday night. And despite the shocking semifinal loss by her beloved Huskies in overtime, she completed all her work for the ESPN, got a blink of sleep and still responded to her wake up call for an early flight from Dallas to Phoenix.
For those who know Lobo – or have followed her career through articles and videos – it came as no surprise who was on her mind every step of the way.
Her biggest fan, mother Ruth Ann Lobo, passed away in 2011 after a very long battle with breast cancer. Their beautiful relationship is well known to fans of the Huskies.
Rebecca thought of Ruth Ann as soon as the call came from the Hall.
“I’m home in my kitchen alone, which actually, when you have four young children, is a blessing,” Lobo said Saturday. “And I got the call, and again, was just beside myself with surprise and excitement.
“When I got off the phone I just, in particular, thought about my mom. This would have been something she dreamed of more than I ever did. I know she was happy then and it’s just a very gratifying feeling.”
Lobo was alone when the call came because her husband, writer Steve Rushin, was out grabbing a sandwich. She texted him, “Tonight you get to sleep with a Naismith Hall of Famer.”
Rushing countered with,“Great! Larry Bird?”
Lobo’s story drew a big reaction of laughter at the class announcement early Saturday morning at the Westgate Center. She told it again later and there were more chuckles.
Bird was the guy who rekindled the Celtics tradition. Before coach Geno Auriemma reeled in Lobo as a recruit from Southwick, Mass., in 1991, there was never a thought of 11 NCAA championships in Storrs. When Auriemma, inducted in 2006, escorts Lobo to the stage in September, it will be emotional and more than a little special.
Even after losing in the semifinals Friday night and having a 111-game winning streak snapped shy of another championship, Auriemma took time to make a live call-in during the ESPN Hall of Fame show Saturday morning.
Auriemma called it an “incredible journey” watching Lobo grow from a “6-foot-5 girl running around with a stick” as she played high school lacrosse to where “she’s going to be enshrined.”
“As excited as I was [going into the Hall] this is probably as great a day for me as that day was because I know what went into it,” Auriemma said.
Lobo thanked Auriemma for calling in. Auriemma told her he couldn’t be happier or more proud.”
That was a lot of love for national television so early in the morning Phoenix time. But that is the Lobo story, part fairy tale and part epic sports story.
As an analyst for ESPN, Lobo is watching her sport continue to grow and take different strides. UConn made news with the Final Four loss Friday night. Instead of being sad, she talked about the high quality of play in both national semifinals. And she dreams of the day the women will play their championship game in a huge dome, drawing the masses. That may be a long way away still but Lobo has never shied away from dreams.
She led UConn to that 35-0 season and the first national championship in 1995. That helped change the face of women’s basketball. She has her player of the year trophies, the 1996 Olympic gold medal, the WNBA career, her three children and a state that still loves her.
The way she sees it none of that would have happened with out Ruth Ann.
“She was the one, when I was a kid and signed up to play basketball and they called the house and said, ‘There’s not enough for a girl’s team, Rebecca can’t play,’ ” Lobo said. “She said, ‘ No, you have to let her play on the boys team.’
“She was always there supporting me and I’ll be thinking of her every step of the way.”
Lobo grew up in Southwick, about 15 minutes from Springfield. There will a big crowd for her when induction weekend comes around. It all seems so appropriate. As a young girl she visited the museum to study the game she loved. As a woman, the Hall of Fame is where she had her wedding reception in 2003 – the first time anyone had done that.
Somehow it all feels right – with the exception of one thing. It would be so much better if Ruth Ann Lobo could be there.
“All the people I care about will be there,” Rebecca said Saturday. “The one who can’t, who I’ll be thinking of, is my mom.”