This is not the retrospective I was expecting to write, and I'm not sure what that says about me, about us, about her, or about them. But that's the end of the story, and we should be beginning at the beginning.
It begins in New York, and it begins with a Rebecca, and it begins with Madison Square Garden.
Except that it doesn't.
For one Rebecca, it starts on the Connecticut border, and it starts with a 35-0 record and a national championship and a gold medal. It starts with the third of three legendary NCAA championship games. How do you follow up Sheryl Swoopes and Katie Smith dueling in 1993? With Charlotte Smith at the buzzer in 1994. How do you follow up Charlotte Smith? With Rebecca Lobo and the 35-0 UConn Huskies in 1995. And how do you follow that up? With an unbeaten national team winning Olympic gold in 1996. Without any of those four events, one leading smoothly into the next, year after year, I don't think we have a WNBA. Without a personable star on an undefeated team in the heart of ESPN country, I don't think we have the attention that leads to 1996 and leads to June 21st, 1997.
For another Rebecca, it starts in middle-class Queens, and it starts with dresses and bows, and it starts with a role reversal. It starts with a girl who didn't like sports and a father who was indifferent to sports and a mother who followed all the New York City teams. It starts with a Rebecca who didn't know there were other Rebeccas in the real world until she was nine years old and sitting on the slide next to a kindergartener. It starts with feminism, and bonding, and it leads to June 29th, 1997, the first game at the Garden for the Liberty and the first game for the New York fan base- including a mother who followed all the New York City teams and believed in the cause of women's sports, and her reluctant daughter who just wanted to spend more time with her mom.
The story didn't start at Madison Square Garden, and it hasn't finished at Madison Square Garden. But that's where we pick it up, in New York, at Madison Square Garden, with a Rebecca on the court and a Rebecca in the stands.
We share part of a story, crossing over narratives and mixing up genres. Our paths have crossed a time or two. That's sort of inevitable for season subscribers and long-time players. She's complimented me on my jersey and been gracious during random encounters. And if she ever wants her credential from the 2007 All-Star Game back, I'll happily return it.
Though I wear her name and number, I was never a fan of Rebecca Lobo the basketball player. To be sure, she was one of my Libs, and I cheered for her- but the same way I cheered for so many other Liberty players. She wore our name on the front, carried the torch over her heart, and therefore she was to be cheered for.
But I've long been a fan of Rebecca Lobo the blogger, Rebecca Lobo the analyst, Rebecca Lobo the commentator... ultimately, Rebecca Lobo, the quick-witted brunette with the October birthday whose name was abbreviated to B or Bec or Becca and never Becky.
She's the one who's remained in the public eye the longest, the one who's made a name for herself again on the national stage. She promotes the game. She knows the game. She's done more for the WNBA since retiring from the game than she did during her years in New York (and Houston, and Connecticut). So in a way it makes sense that, when the voting was opened up to the public, she'd be the name that everyone remembers- not necessarily for what she did in a jersey, but what she's done in a suit. (Or a stylish top and a pair of slacks. None of this is an exact science.)
It's time for me to admit to a fib. I've claimed fanship of the Liberty since 1997, and that's very true. But my clearest memories of the team aren't until 1999 and 2000. So I can say that I saw Rebecca Lobo play, but I don't clearly remember what she was like before the 44th second of the Liberty's 1999 season.
Unfortunately, I clearly remember the 44th second of the 1999 season, the faint echo of a scream that reached to the 100s, the hush that fell over the Garden. And we'll never know what might have been, how a young post with two years of pro experience would have fared against the veterans coming over from the ABL; if the first knee injury hadn't done it, the second one would have.
In some ways, then, honoring Rebecca Lobo is honoring what was- her choice to go to the WNBA and stick to that choice, the only '96 Olympian to be WNBA through and through; her status as one of the first WNBA players and one of the first Liberty players; the two solid years she gave us- and what might have been. Would a healthy Lobo have been enough in 1999? In 2000? (Would the Liberty have traded for Tari Phillips? And what would have become of Carolyn Jones-Young if they hadn't?) Would there be a banner, a trophy? The answer is probably not, but the question still lingers.
That's not the end of the story, either, but it's the closest thing we have to one.