Friday, May 16, 2008 Updated: May 21, 11:45 AM ET
Mother-son legacy a first for WNBA/NBA
By Jeremy Lundblad Special to ESPN.com
"Coooooooop," he'd chant, then start raising the roof. (It was the mid-'90s, after all).
Like any kid playing basketball, JaVale McGee imitated his idols when messing around on the court. He'd knock down a deep shot and celebrate just as he'd seen the pros do.
But there was no "Coop" in the NBA in those days.
McGee was mimicking Cynthia Cooper, his mom's teammate in Europe and a future WNBA star.
"[JaVale] views women differently because he's always been around strong women," said Pamela McGee, his mother.
Pamela McGee, JaVale's mother, played in the WNBA for two seasons in 1998 and 1999.
She would know. The elder McGee starred, along with twin sister Paula, on back-to-back NCAA championship teams at USC. She won Olympic gold before starting a professional career that took her to Brazil, France, Italy and Spain. Her son was her travel companion, thanks to contract terms that included nannies and teammates who helped with the babysitting -- including Cynthia Cooper.
Throughout the 20-year-old McGee's life, his mom has taught him the game of basketball. But as the WNBA enters its twelfth season, the Nevada center represents a piece of history that many probably didn't expect to see this soon. The Nevada sophomore not only is on the verge of becoming an NBA lottery pick but also will become the first WNBA offspring drafted into the NBA.
Given his genes, it's no great shock to see McGee on NBA radars. Like his mom, his father also had an impressive career. "Big" George Montgomery was a force at Illinois in the early 1980s. In 1985, he was a second-round pick of the Trail Blazers, but he never played in the NBA.
It was clear from an early age that McGee was blessed with his parents' size. He was 11 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. From the age of 9 months, you could find him in the gym with his mother, in a stroller next to the bench.
JaVale McGee will be the first son of a WNBA player ever to play in the NBA.
McGee learned the game by watching his mom and the European style of play. His mom preached the importance of learning the game from outside and then developing inside. "She never really made me go to the post," McGee said.
That philosophy is reflected in how he plays the game today. The 7-foot center shot over 35 percent from beyond the arc in his college career.
After eight years of playing overseas, Pamela McGee was 34 years old with two children when the WNBA launched in 1997. Despite her age, she jumped at the chance to play back home, and the Sacramento Monarchs selected her with the second overall pick in the 1997 WNBA draft.
Thanks to the WNBA, thousands of young girls across the country found role models on the professional level. Girls no longer only heard stories of the greatness of Nancy Lieberman or waited until the Olympics to watch Teresa Weatherspoon, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and scores of other budding stars. They were live on television every week in the WNBA.
But girls weren't the only ones finding heroes in the newly formed league. The younger McGee, then 9 years old, sat behind the Monarchs' bench, watching and learning from his mom.
In that inaugural season, Pamela McGee joined seven other mothers playing in the WNBA. That included Sheryl Swoopes, who gave birth during the season and is still an active player. JaVale McGee held the distinction of being the eldest of the children, most of whom were still infants. He also was one of only three sons.
Still, the draft hopeful doesn't remember many details about watching his mom. "I remember sitting in the audience watching them play, wishing I could be out there playing," he said.
His mother's fame never was something he thought much about. Instead, it was, "That's my mom, she plays basketball."
"I really didn't look at it like she was famous or anything," he recalled.
That sentiment is echoed by the former WNBA player: "He has no clue what I did as a basketball player," she said. "He just sees me as his mother."
The forward/center played two seasons with the Monarchs and L.A. Sparks before retiring prior to the 1999 season.
The marriage of the WNBA and NBA already has produced several family connections. Most notably, Karl Malone's daughter is Cheryl Ford, last year's WNBA All-Star Game MVP.
Spurs reserve forward Ime Udoka and his sister Mfon are the only brother-sister combo in NBA-WNBA history. That will change when Candace Parker, the top pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, suits up this month. Her brother is Raptors guard Anthony Parker. Also, Trail Blazers 2007 draft pick Rudy Fernandez is the brother of Marta, who plays for the Sparks.
But never before has the son of a WNBA player suited up in the NBA. That will change next fall when McGee will suit up for his NBA debut, just like he watched his mother do in the WNBA 11 years ago.
"As a single mother, you just always sit back and say, 'That's my baby,'" Pamela said. "He's realized his dream."
Jeremy R. Lundblad is a researcher for ESPN.com. He can be reached via e-mail at Jeremy.R.Lundblad@espn.com.