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A Celebration of Mothers and Ballers

Updated: Jun 2

Earlier this month was the US celebration of Mother’s Day, and whether you are celebrating their presence or their memory, I hope you spent the day well. With the 28th season of the WNBA opening around the same time, I started reflecting on the generations of mothers, both past and present, that have written sports history. While many recent/active players such as Katie Lou Samuelson, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Dearica Hamby, Candace Parker, and Breanna Stewart have dealt with the pressure, pains, and joys of working motherhood, they are not the first of their kind to do so. Lineage within the NBA’s ranks has been well documented and celebrated, but there are several NBA players with maternal ties to the WNBA and women’s basketball worthy of note as well. There are so many exceptional women to choose from, but below I have shared four women just to scratch the surface. If family ties and sports history are of interest to you, let this article be a catalyst to digging deeper into the generational talents enmeshed in the fabric of basketball.

  1. Rhonda Smith Banchero

Rhonda Smith became a University of Washington legend as the leading scorer during her four year tenure on the school’s basketball team from 1992-1995 and a two-time All American. Her record has been listed as 1,801 or 2,958 points (I have been unable to clarify the discrepancy at this time), and paved the way for current WNBA star Kelsey Plum to ascend to the number one scoring position of not only UW, but also the NCAA WBB until Caitlin Clark’s peak earlier this year. She was also a part of the 1993 USA qualifying team. After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in 1995, Rhonda was able to transition to the first season of the American Basketball League in 1996 playing for the Seattle Reign and later the Portland Power before the league folded in 1999. Fortunately, the ABL coincided with the development of the WNBA and Rhonda became the first UW Husky drafted in 2000. The Sacramento Monarchs selected Rhonda where she played for one season before transitioning to international play. In 2004 she was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame at UW. After her career as a professional athlete, she became a realtor and has also worked for a non-profit, as well as coaching. She is married to Mario, and together they have three children, including the 2022 NBA #1 Draft Pick, Paolo Banchero.     

  1. Niele Ivey

Born in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1977, Niele Ivey is the only girl and youngest of five children in her family. After connecting with future Basketball Hall of Famer Coach Muffet McGraw, Ivey played for the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team from 1997 until her graduation with a degree in history in 2001. That same year the team won a National Championship, the first in the program’s history, and was drafted to the Indiana Fever in the WNBA where she played her rookie season while pregnant with son Jaden without missing any of the 32 games. She played for the Fever from 2001-2004, taking them to their first playoff appearance in 2002 and closing out her final season with the Detroit Shock and Phoenix Mercury in 2005. Niele spent two seasons as an administrative assistant for the women’s basketball team at Xavier University before joining the Notre Dame women’s coaching staff in 2007. During her tenure she was a key component to recruiting and training talents such as Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jewell Loyd, Lindsay Allen, and Arike Ogunbowale. She joined the NBA Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach for one season before being named the Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Coach of the Fighting Irish in April of 2020, the first Black female head coach in the school’s history. In 2023 she was named the ACC Coach of the Year. In 2022, Jaden was the fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft with Niele by his side

  1. Pamela McGee

Hailing from Flint, Michigan, Pamela McGee’s legacy spans the world and several decades. Starting in a trend of exceptionalism, she and her twin sister, Paula, were members of their high school basketball team that went undefeated two seasons in a row leading two back-to-back state championships in 1978 and 1979, as well as track and field titles in 1979 and 1980. The twins went on to play together at USC from 1980-1984 where they became part of the historic win for the Trojans in back to back championships in 1983 and 1984 alongside Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper. She graduated from USC with a degree in economics and communications. In 1983 Pamela played on the USA team in the Pan American Games alongside Kim Mulkey and Cheryl Miller to win a gold medal, then went onto the 1984 Olympics to win Team USA women’s basketball’s first gold medal. Though only lasting a short time, Pamela was one of the stars of the Women’s American Basketball Association in 1984 on the Dallas Diamonds team before moving onto an prosperous international career. She gave birth to her first child, son JaVale, in Flint before returning to Europe with her nine-month-old to continue her playing career. In 1994 she gave birth to her daughter, Imani. In 1997, a mother of two and now in her mid-thirties, Pamela was the second pick in the inaugural WNBA college draft class going to the Sacramento Monarchs and playing her second season with the Los Angeles Sparks. In 2003 she was on the coaching staff for the WNBA Championship won by the Detroit Shock. In 2012 she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, had her jersey retired at USC, and in 2013 Pamela was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. In 2008, she made history again as the first WNBA player to have a son drafted into the NBA, then again made history as the first WNBA player to have children playing in both leagues when Imani was drafted to the WNBA in 2016 as the tenth overall pick.       

  1. Kathy (Phillips) Drysdale

At 6’4” Kathy was a player on the Lady Lions basketball team at Penn State from 1988-1992, playing an imperative role in the school achieving its first number one ranking in the 1991 Associated Press poll. She scored 1,295 points in her college career, as well as 717 rebounds, 89 blocks, 117 steals,  94 assists, and MVP in the 1990 Atlantic 10 Tournament. After graduating from Penn State in 1992, Kathy began a career with the Philadelphia 76ers from 1993-2006 before joining Penn State-Abington as the head coach of the women’s basketball team as well as the sports information director for 14 varsity sports. Her son, Dereck Lively II, was born in 2004 and was named after his father, who unfortunately died due to addiction in 2011 when Dereck was seven years old. In 2014, Kathy was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and began a decade long battle with the disease. On July 9, 2022, Kathy was in remission, a date now tattooed on Dereck’s left thigh, as he prepared to enter his freshman year at Duke University. Kathy was able to be by Dereck’s side when he was drafted 12th overall in the 2023 NBA Draft and moved to Dallas to be close by for his rookie season with the Mavericks. On April 12, 2024 at the age of 53, Kathy died surrounded by family. Dereck announced Kathy’s passing with a statement on Instagram and attended the Maverick’s game later that evening wearing a #42 jersey. A moment of silence was held in the arena before the game in her honor. “My mom is the reason I play basketball,” Lively has said, and Kathy’s legacy lives on through him. 


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