On this day 47 years ago, Rebecca Lobo was born in Hartford, Connecticut.
Lobo played for Geno Auriemma at Connecticut from 1991 to 1995, winning a national championship in her senior year, later joining the WNBA when it began in 1997, featuring in the league until 2003. She is also an Olympic gold medalist, currently works as an analyst ESPN and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
Let’s celebrate her birthday by looking back at her contributions to the game.
Rebecca Lobo at UConn
Lobo was one of the hottest commodities in the country coming out of high school. She scored 2,710 points at Southwick-Tolland Regional School in Massachusetts, setting a new state record for boys and girls and was a Parade All-American. Plenty of colleges were after her, but Auriemma made signing the prospect a top priority.
“I remember when Geno Auriemma was recruiting Rebecca Lobo,” Jim Vincent, Lobo’s coach at Southwick from 1985 to 1991, told Ron Chimelis of MassLive in 2014. “He told me he had to land her. He said if he could bring her to UConn, other good players would follow. And he told Rebecca that if she came, they would win a national championship.”
Auriemma’s prediction came to fruition in Lobo’s senior year as she led the team to a 35-0 undefeated season, earned National Player of the Year honors and helped win Connecticut’s first national championship in 1995, defeating Tennessee in the title game to spark was would become one of the greatest rivalries in college basketball.
“Rebecca really started Huskymania,” former UConn star Diana Taurasi said. “She started that wave of passion and winning.”
The impact Lobo had on UConn women’s basketball and the game as a whole was not lost on her coach.
“No on captured the national spotlight quite like she did in 1995,” Auriemma told Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com in 2017. “That team and her personality truly put a face on the game that carried over into the WNBA.”
The WNBA Comes Knocking
In 1997, the WNBA launched, and when it did, it made sure Lobo was a member of the party.
During the league’s first player allocations Jan. 22, 1997, Lobo was placed on the New York Liberty along with Louisiana Tech’s Teresa Weatherspoon.
In the inaugural season, the center was integral in the Liberty’s run to the WNBA Finals, averaging 12.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest. It wasn’t enough to win a title, though, as the Houston Comets defeated New York, 65-51, in the ultimate game. Lobo was named to the All-WNBA Second Team that season.
Lobo’s time in New York would last through the 2001 season, and during her tenure, the team appeared in the WNBA Finals twice more – in 1999 and 2000 – and fell to the Comets both times. In 1999, though, her season lasted just one game as she tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in the season’s opening contest.
“Last night was a roller coaster of emotions,” Lobo said to Frank Litsky of The New York Times in 1999 after the injury. “I finally felt O.K., spoke to my mom and the tears came. Then I was O.K. Then I spoke to my dad and the tears came. I’m disappointed this happened, but at the same time I’m upbeat.”
Still, Lobo was awarded an All-Star nod, though the injury kept her from appearing in the game.
Following the 2001 season, New York shipped Lobo to Houston for a 2002 second-round pick. She played just one season for the Comets, coming off the bench as a role player. Houston traded her to the Connecticut Sun after the campaign, and she spent the 2003 season starting half of the team’s games. She retired from the WNBA after the campaign concluded.
Other Rebecca Lobo Accomplishments
In between finishing at UConn and starting her WNBA career, Rebecca Lobo played with Team USA at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. At 22, she was the youngest member of the squad.
Led by head coach Tara VanDerveer, the Americans cruised to a gold medal, going a perfect 8-0 in the competition and never letting a team come within single digits at the final horn. The closest any opponent got to Team USA was Japan in the Quarterfinals, only falling by a 15-point margin, 108-93. The Americans capped off a dominant display all tournament long with another similar performance in the gold medal game versus Brazil, slaughtering the silver medalists, 111-87.
Lobo appeared in all eight contests, registering 31 points (3.9 per game) and 16 rebounds (2.0 per game) with an 11-of-19 shooting mark from the field.
Soon after retiring from the WNBA, Lobo joined ESPN in 2004 to start her now-illustrious broadcasting career as a WNBA and women’s college basketball analyst and reporter. She has been at it ever since, becoming a mainstay in ESPN’s women’s basketball coverage.
“I always thought, ‘If this becomes too much, I’ll stop. My family is going to come first,’” Lobo told Voepel in 2017. “But we’ve been able to do it. I started out doing sideline reporting, and it’s evolved. I just love the job so much and have worked with people who understand balancing it with family.
“I don’t have to be on the road so much that it would make it impossible,” she continued. “I’m home a lot to take my kids to school and put them to bed at night. I can coach their teams, and that is the kind of coaching I really do enjoy.”
For her contributions to the game on and off the court, Rebecca Lobo was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
“This just would have been something (my mother RuthAnn) dreamed of a lot more than I ever did,” Lobo said of her late mother when her inclusion in the Hall of Fame was announced. “But I know she’s happy and I knew she was happy then, and just a very gratifying feeling.”
To Rebecca Lobo’s husband, Steve Rushin, her induction is just as important for their immediate family, too.
“It’s kind of a reminder to our kids that their mom is one of the great figures in basketball history and so important in women’s sports,” he said.
Lobo and Rushin had an unusual courtship, first meeting when Lobo confronted Rushin at a Manhattan bar for the sport writer’s critical coverage of women’s basketball. Just 23 months later, the two were married in a crazy story that Rushin laid out in a 2012 column for the Hartford Courant. Their story is one of many great examples of the impact Rebecca Lobo has had on women’s basketball, women’s sports and basketball as a whole both on and off the court.
Happy birthday, Rebecca!