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Monday, June 14, 2010
Lobo's legacy bigger than she knows

By Mechelle Voepel
Special to ESPN.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- There was a recurring theme for Rebecca Lobo, who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame here this weekend. Again and again, she mentioned how it was just very fortuitous that she showed up in life the year after Title IX became law and at UConn as the program was truly on the verge of becoming a superpower in college athletics.

Rebecca Lobo
Rebecca Lobo grabbed 1,268 career rebounds at UConn and holds the program record for blocked shots (396).

Lobo's homage to "great timing" is very sincere. But while she is right to point out her good fortune in those terms, it's equally important to mention the flip side of that. The time was right for her, but she was also right for the time.

I recall once reading a quote from Drew Barrymore about the 1980s nostalgia rom-com "The Wedding Singer." (If you were young in the '80s, I think it's really hard not to totally love this movie.) Barrymore said although it sounded kind of strange, it was accurate to think of the film as "a period piece."

That's usually a term used for 19th century-based dramas involving multiple petticoats and stilted language. By contrast, "The Wedding Singer" was set in 1985 and made in 1998. The "period" was just 13 years previous, so the contrasts were more subtle than, of course, would be the case if it were set 100 years earlier than when it was filmed.

Still … there definitely were differences between '85 and '98 -- in clothes, hairstyles, music, sports, politics and technology. Even if 1985 didn't seem that long ago in '98, when you compared the times, the things that had changed really stood out.

Similarly, it isn't as if Lobo's college career feels "ancient" -- or at least it doesn't to me -- yet it was 15 years ago that she ran down the court in Minneapolis at the conclusion of the NCAA title game against Tennessee, arms upraised in victorious joy. Photographers snapped what remains the iconic image of UConn being transformed from up-and-comer to "arrived," but back then we didn't know just how permanent and prolific that arrival would be.

"We had no idea at UConn that the craziness of '95 was going to happen, and we sure didn't know that it was going to lead to six more championship," Lobo said. "So when I look back, I say, 'I really was blessed to play there.'"

Friday, Lobo strolled around the Hall of Fame, which includes a framed copy of USA Today's 1991 high school All-America team for girls' basketball. That includes a picture of the teenaged Lobo.

"It makes you realize you're getting old," she said, smiling. "Normally, I'm going to the grocery store, playing with my kids, [broadcasting] some games. Your life is kind of rolling along, but when you're somewhere like this and reflecting on, 'Has it been that long since I played?' it's a little humbling. But it's also awesome to be a part of it."

Lobo said she is now very comfortable with people just coming up and starting a conversation with her -- even if she's sometimes wondering to herself if she actually knows them or if they're just fans who see her as that approachable.

She also said when folks just keep looking at her, it doesn't much bother her, either.

"I grew up with people staring at me because I was such a tall, awkward girl," Lobo said. "So in college and afterward, somebody might say to me, 'People are staring at you,' and I wouldn't even notice it. I think it was a defense mechanism. I had the '80s hair and braces and a 6-3 frame as a 16-year-old. I think it was me learning to be oblivious to it."

Lobo topped out at 6 feet, 4 inches, married the even-taller writer Steve Rushin, and they have three children with another baby on the way. She knows, of course, her kids will be tall. And while she wouldn't ever push basketball on them, she hopes her children find sports to be the same kind of self-esteem builder as playing hoops, in particular, was for her.

"Basketball made me happy to be tall," she said. "And more secure about myself than I ever would have been without it."

Lobo said seeing the exhibits in the Hall of Fame was a deeper emotional experience than she even expected it to be.

Hall of Fame
This year's six inductees mark the 12th class for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I was walking through here, and it was almost bringing tears to my eyes, just looking at some of the pictures," she said. "I've heard stories from Ann Meyers and Nancy Lieberman talking about the national teams in 1976 and '80, but here you see photos of when they were so young.

"You see the All-American Redheads, what they had to wear and all the things they had to do just to play the game. It really was emotional. I don't know if I yet see my place in it. But it's fun to see the other people's place."

The reality is, Lobo's place is much bigger than she will ever think it is.

"What Rebecca meant to the University of Connecticut and the game of basketball -- her time on the court was such a small part of who she was. Tonight, we could see she transcends that," Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday after the induction ceremony, during which Lobo essentially gave a clinic on how you should conceptualize, prepare for and execute a Hall of Fame speech.

Yes, she's a professional broadcaster. But even grading on that high a curve, her speech deserved an A-plus. It was funny, warm and filled with gratitude.

"[In 1995] it was the first time the national media had converged so much on one team, and she was the one they all wanted to talk to," Auriemma said. "For her to handle it the way she did it, and then to have the storybook ending when she played the way she did in the national championship game -- and then how she handled the whole thing with being the youngest on the Olympic team -- that was classic Rebecca. She handled everything with ease."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.