A Basketball Mom

By: Keia Clarke, New York Liberty Chief Operating Officer

For many, Mother’s Day is a time of reflection. A time to celebrate the mothers we have, to remember the mothers we had, and to think about the affect being a mom has had on your life.

For as long as I can remember, even as a young girl growing up in Connecticut, basketball has always permeated every area of my life, and it’s no different when it comes to Mother’s Day. My mother was my first coach in my town’s summer league, the only all-girls squad. There was my 16th birthday gift — a weekend in New York for the Big East Tournament, or the time my mom managed to get me a meet and greet with a few players from the ABL’s New England Blizzard. So many memories —great memories of me, my mom and the game.

2019 marks my 9th season with the Liberty, and my 7th year (and 8th season) as a mother. My daughter Avery was born just weeks before the tip-off of our 2012 run, and she was there for Opening Night. At the end of 2013 we welcomed my son Gavin, and suddenly, I was a mom of two. For those first few years, juggling a career and motherhood always seemed like sacrifice. Working after everyone was asleep, working while pregnant, or rushing through the city to make pick-ups from daycare. And my husband sacrificed too, to ensure that we both had a chance to pursue our passions. But as my children get older (now 5 and 7), mommy’s job is basketball and they get in on the action. They love going to games and have their own favorite players. They watch on TV while standing in the family room dribbling basketballs. Avery has marked our calendar at home with all of the games. Each night they will ask if they get to go to the next game. Perhaps they are falling in love with the sport, or maybe they are just showing support for mommy?

Either way, I will take it.

This season they played in our town’s beginner recreation league for the very first time. I packed water and snacks every Saturday morning. I taught them the importance of NOT wearing their basketball shoes outside, so we all bought matching Nike slides. I was a parent volunteer for the first grade girls division. They got their first jerseys last season too, matching Tina Charles swag that they slept in for days. On any given day, you can find Gavin in his room getting shots up (on a Liberty mini hoop) wearing his jersey. Finally, I got to be a traditional basketball mom, cheering for them, and it gave me the exact joy that I’d hoped. It was symbolic that I serve as Avery’s first coach. It meant so much to me to create memories with Avery the same way my mom did with me. Talk about a full circle moment for my mom and me.

As the story is told, when I was 2 years old, my mother brought me out onto the neighborhood basketball court where she spent most of her days hooping. She played with all the guys and was known for being a clutch 3-point shooter. She shared with me that she handed me a ball and said, one day, you will be great at basketball. The first time I made good on her promise for me was when I earned a basketball scholarship to Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. The second life-changing moment happened when I had the opportunity to work at the NBA/WNBA. I didn’t play the game at the highest level, but I’m proud to say I went pro in a different way.

Sharing my love for basketball with my family wasn’t something I planned, but I’m happy it’s happening this way. I like to think that my kids are learning valuable lessons steeped in commitment, persistence and hard work from me and the game itself. I sometimes even doubt if I’m getting this motherhood thing right, but then I think of my own mother, my grandmother, my aunts and my mother-in-law. On this Mother’s Day, I salute them and all the strong mothers who showed us the way by leading with love and action.

And Happy Mother’s Day to my own mother, thank you for putting the ball in my hands and supporting me every day.