Rebecca Lobo often uses one word to describe her basketball journey — lucky.
Before becoming one of ESPN's top women's basketball broadcasters, Lobo was one of the sport's pioneers. She helped lead Connecticut's rise as a national power, capping a perfect 35-0 season in 1995 with a national championship. Then, she became one of the founding members of the WNBA.
Lobo continues to contribute to the sport's growth by calling games, including last week's Oklahoma City Regional and the Final Four in New Orleans beginning Sunday.
I'm from a small rural town in Massachusetts, so it's not like there were neighbor kids to go out and play around with. It was us. I had a great middle school basketball coach and I had a good high school basketball coach, but it was really all about my family and great female role models. My grandmother, my mom's mom, was the one who would whip our butt in Ping-Pong. She'd be outside playing Wiffle ball with us. And that was in the late 70s, early 80s, so to me it was normal for women to be involved in sports.
It was pretty special to be on the ground floor of something (at UConn). ... I had my ups and downs. There were a lot of times my sophomore year I considered transferring, just because (coach Geno Auriemma) was so hard on me. But it was really a special, special time. As great as they've been since, you can never really recreate that magic of the first time.
(Auriemma) helped me realize that I could go farther than the boundaries I had set up for myself. When I thought, ‘This is all I can do, this is how hard I can work and I can't work any harder, I can't go any farther,' he wouldn't accept that and he'd push you past that point. Next to my parents, he's had the biggest impact on who I became as a young woman, just because I look at things differently. I don't look at anything as impossible and I don't look at anything as being something I am unable to do.
We were down (in the national championship game) to Tennessee at the half by six, and then the second half it was just kind of like, ‘I know I'm supposed to run here in the offense, but I think I'm gonna be open over there. I'm gonna go get it, I'm gonna shoot it and it's gonna go in.' I had never been that kind of a player, and (Auriemma) got me there, to just believe that you can do it and go take charge of it, even if you have to go out of your way to do that.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a junior in college, and we didn't make it public until the end of my junior year. So my senior year, with everything that was going on on the court, people wanted to hear her story. … All of a sudden, we're out there speaking a ton about it, and there were a lot of people, when they heard me speak, they would come over and say, ‘My mom went through this, and I was feeling the exact same things you were feeling, but I just never talked about it with anybody.' We quickly realized how important it was to not be afraid, to be public about it and how important it is to continue to raise money for research.
There was a stretch where Lisa (Leslie), Sheryl (Swoopes) ad I were the only players signed to the WNBA. So it was on us to be out there thumping the drum for this new league, and it was awesome. In New York, I remember them saying our first year that it cost $10 grand to get the curtain (for the upper deck) for (Madison Square) Garden, and we didn't use it for one game. We were that well-attended. It was a movement. It was this really, really exciting time for women's basketball.
I had never thought about (becoming a broadcaster), because there weren't games on TV. I remember being in middle school and watching Louisiana Tech win the national championship and it was on tape delay. And that was the only game that was on. I was a political science (major) in college and I thought I was going to go to law school. It wasn't until later on in my college career, probably my senior year, when they started showing a little more on TV. ESPN, when I graduated, approached me about doing studio stuff, and then UConn's local games were on their public television station there and they had me doing a few things. So I sort of fell into it, and I fell in love with it. I couldn't ask for a better job.
I had a really hard time critiquing players and what was happening (when I first started), because I was a player and I know what it felt like to be critiqued. And I wasn't completely comfortable yet in my knowledge of the game to feel like my opinion was worth anything. So that was really, really hard early.
As a sideline person with the WNBA, I worked with Doris Burke a ton. I was so fortunate, because she's the best in the business. Not only that, but she took a lot of time to help me along the way. Not only did I get to listen to her during the game and see her prep and see what she was looking at, but she took time — and still does — to encourage me and give me feedback. I was just super, super lucky — like with almost everything in my playing career — to be surrounded with some really helpful, great people.
I love seeing how far the game has come. I'm very quick to say, yeah, these are bigger, better, stronger athletes.
Because I was there from the beginning, especially in the WNBA, I also watch and say, ‘I hope these players continue to understand how lucky they are that we have a league here,' because for a long time we didn't. And the reason people come to watch is because we're different than the NBA players. And that's not just about how they play, but how they behave, and they need to take care of that.
I have four kids, three of them girls, and my oldest plays basketball. She's 8 years old, third grade. And it's not uncommon for one of her teammates (to say), ‘We watched this game on TV.' I couldn't do that when I was that age. So I appreciate it on that level, too, now as a mom of girls that see that this is normal and there are all these opportunities.