Birth: October 6, 1973 in Hartford, Connecticut
Ethnicity: Hispanic American
Occupation: Basketball player
Rebecca Lobo emerged as one of the biggest stars of the fledgling Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 1997, when she was drafted by the New York Liberty. Already a media sensation from her days as a leading force behind the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's NCAA championship in 1995, Lobo's high visibility helped the new league get off to a promising start. Sidelined for two seasons with an injury to her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee that she sustained in the first game of the 1999 season, Lobo underwent a lengthy rehabilitation process that renewed her appreciation for the sport. "My goals have gone from being an all-star to just being able to play basketball," she told Sports Illustrated for Women in January of 2001, "I always took for granted that I could play. Now I know what a gift it is." Such dedication and thoughtfulness, even in the face of adversity, made Lobo into one of the WNBA's most popular players. Her image as a skilled competitor on the court and a well rounded personality off the court were credited with raising the profile of the WNBA and women's professional sports in general.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 6, 1973, Rebecca Rose Lobo was the youngest of Dennis and RuthAnn (McLaughlin) Lobo's three children. Dennis Lobo's heritage was half Cuban and half Polish, and RuthAnn Lobo came from a family of German and Irish stock. Son Jason and daughter Rachel were avid athletes as they grew up, and their younger sister often joined her siblings in games of basketball, soccer, softball, and football as they grew up in Southwick, Massachusetts. At Jason Lobo's urging, the Lobos put up a basketball hoop at the family home, and shooting hoops became Rebecca Lobo's favorite pastime. "Sometimes I played because I wanted to get out of a bad mood, sometimes because I was worried about an upcoming test. Sometimes basketball was just a great way to forget myself," she wrote in her 1996 memoir The Home Team, "When I stepped out into the driveway, I was no longer Rebecca Lobo. I was Larry Bird or I was Dr. J."
In addition to practicing her skills on a co-ed team at the Southwick Community Center, Lobo attended summer basketball camps beginning in fifth grade. She was also helped by her father, who coached basketball in the Granby, Connecticut school system, where both he and his wife worked as teachers. Her parents' career meant that Lobo was expected to take school seriously, and she almost always lived up to those expectations. "From the time I was a kid, they emphasized how important school work was," Lobo recalled in a 1998 interview with NEA Today, "It had to get done before everything else. I played on a team when I was in fourth grade, and I remember the teacher calling home because my grades had slipped. The first thing my Mom said was, 'If your grades don't improve, basketball is the first thing to go.'" Finishing her senior year at Southwick Tolland Regional High School in 1991 near the top of her class, Lobo graduated as the class salutatorian.
Although a career as a professional athlete seemed to be an unrealistic goal for a girl growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Lobo's parents always encouraged her not to set aside her dream of someday playing professional basketball. When she was in the third grade, Lobo wrote a letter to the general manager of the Boston Celtics to inform him that she would be the first woman to play for the team. During her adolescence, Lobo had a run-in with her fourth-grade teacher, who told her to stop playing with the boys in her class at recess and to start wearing dresses and acting more feminine. The teacher's attitude infuriated the Lobos, who let their daughter know that the teacher was wrong in her attitude. The incident was a defining moment for Lobo. As she later wrote in The Home Team, "There's nothing masculine about being competitive. There's nothing masculine about trying to be the best at everything you do, nor is there anything wrong with it. I don't know why a female athlete has to defend her femininity just because she chooses to play sports."
As an academically and athletically gifted student, the six-foot, four-inch Lobo was recruited by one-hundred different colleges. She chose to enter the University of Connecticut because it was fairly close to home and the program encouraged athletes to take their academic work seriously. Her first two seasons with the Huskies women's basketball team were tension-filled, however, as Lobo adjusted to the coaching style of Geno Auriemma. At one point in her sophomore season, Auriemma and Lobo actually stopped speaking to one another outside of practice. After a series of heart-to-heart talks, the two managed to work out their differences. Lobo had not realized that Coach Auriemma's criticism of her playing was a sign that he believed that she was not reaching her full potential as an all-around player.
Lobo also faced the emotional stress of witnessing her mother go through extensive treatments for breast cancer beginning in 1993. Against her doctors' advice, RuthAnn Lobo continued to attend many of her daughter's games, viewing her participation as a form of therapy. Her mother's resilience helped Lobo and the Huskies to a 30-3 record in the 1993-1994 season, although they did not make it past the quarterfinal round of that year's NCAA championships. Despite the disappointment, the team's effort created an unprecedented wave of interest in women's sports at the university. The team also gained national attention via its exposure on the ESPN network, which was headquartered not far from the University of Connecticut's main campus.
In her senior year at Connecticut, the coaching and teamwork all came together to produce a rare perfect season. The Huskies went undefeated in twenty-eight regular season games and in its NCAA final against the University of Tennessee pulled out a 70-65 victory. It was only the ninth time that a major college basketball team had gone undefeated for an entire season. Lobo and the Huskies were once again heavily featured on ESPN, and Lobo received an ESPY Award from the network as 1995's Outstanding Female Athlete. Lobo also was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, Women's Basketball Player of the Year by the NCAA, and Woman of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation in 1995.
As she had in high school, Lobo managed to find a balance between sports and the classroom as she completed her B.A. in political science with a B-plus average. "It's all a matter of attitude," she told Scholastic Coach in an October 1995 interview, "Athletes who take to the classroom naturally or are encouraged to focus on grades should be able to do well in the classroom. I believe the reason you go to college is to get your degree. It's not a minor league or an audition for the pros. The women are obviously aware of that because there is no pro league." A little more than a year later, however, Lobo's long-ago dream of playing in a professional basketball league would come true.
As a member of the U.S. Women's Basketball Team sent to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Lobo helped the squad win the gold medal, although as a younger player she spent most of her time on the bench. Although she considered playing professional basketball in Europe after the Olympics, a new professional league, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) announced that it was gearing up for the 1997 season. Sent to the New York Liberty for the inaugural season, Lobo was one of the best-known players to join the league. Although she compiled a solid record in her first two seasons with the Liberty, Lobo was sometimes criticized as a player who earned more media attention than she deserved. As a 1999 Women's Sports and Fitness profile noted, "It is the compelling fact of Rebecca Lobo's professional career that her status as a player still does not match her marketing image." Lobo responded by explaining, "People have to understand what my game is. It's not all about numbers. There's a bigger picture here.... I don't create off the dribble. I rely on my teammates; my role is to set screens and get rebounds.... And I'll tell you what: In the next three years, I will be one of the best players in the league."
Lobo suffered a devastating injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee at the start of the 1999 season; after re-injuring herself during a practice session, Lobo ended up sitting out the 1999 and 2000 seasons. She returned to the Liberty lineup for sixteen games in the 2001 season and was traded to the Houston Comets in April of 2002. Still recovering from her injury, Lobo slowly built up her court time and remained hopeful of her future in the WNBA. As she told the New York Daily News in July of 2001 in the midst of her recovery, "I think every time I go in a game, I have added something positive. I have gotten a rebound or made a defensive play. That is what I try to focus on. I hope that I will be able to look back on this and say it was a learning experience, too. I hope one day, I will be able to use this to better understand my role in games and understand the role of players coming off the bench. I hope this will one day be a positive experience for me."
Well respected by her teammates and fans for her down-to-earth demeanor and thoughtfulness, Lobo was also a favorite of advertisers. In addition to having Reebok sponsor a shoe with her name on it, Lobo also entered into endorsement deals with General Motors and Spalding sporting goods. Officially licensed sports apparel with Lobo's name on it consistently ranked among the top ten of all such items among professional athletes--male or female--during her first two years with the Liberty.
Active in charity work related to cancer treatment and recovery, Lobo acknowledged her status as a role model for young girls and women who sought out athletic opportunities. "I think athletes have a responsibility to realize that little eyes are watching them," she told NEA Today in 1998, "I want to be a good person and live my life the right way, keeping in mind that there might be a little kid who's watching what I do." Lobo also hoped that her influence would extend to young men. "When you come to our games, you see little boys asking for our autographs," she explained, "Maybe they'll treat little girls their age differently, or look at them differently, now and in the years to come."
Born Rebecca Rose Lobo on October 6, 1973, in Hartford, CT; daughter of RuthAnn and Dennis Lobo Education: University of Connecticut, BA, political science, 1995. Religion: Roman Catholic Addresses: Basketball team--Houston Comets, Two Greenway Plaza, Houston, TX 77046. Basketball association--USA Basketball, 5465 Mark Dablind Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO 80918.
Female Athlete of the Year, Associated Press, 1995; NCAA Women's Basketball Player of the Year, 1995; Woman of the Year, Women's Sports Foundation, 1995; ESPY Award, Outstanding Female Athlete, 1995; Atlanta Summer Olympic Games Gold Medal, women's basketball (with U.S. team), 1996.
Professional basketball player. New York Liberty, forward, 1995-02; Houston Comets, 2002-.
"Rebecca Lobo." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. Vol. 3. Gale Group, 2003.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003.