We met, by chance, in a smoke-filled bar better suited for curing
hams. She asked if I was the scribe who once mocked, in SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED, women's professional basketball. Reluctantly, I said
that I was. She asked how many games I'd actually attended. I
hung my head and said, "None." And so Rebecca Lobo invited me to
watch her team, the New York Liberty, play at Madison Square
Garden. We both reeked of secondhand Camels. (And, quite
possibly, of secondhand camels: It was that kind of a dive.) But
my insult had been forgiven. It was--for me, anyway--love at
She had the longest legs, the whitest teeth, the best-sown
cornrows I had ever seen, and I imagined us to have much in
common. I ate Frosted Flakes right out of the box, and she was on
boxes of Frosted Flakes. I am ludicrous, and she was name-dropped
in a rap by Ludacris. We were, I thought, made for each other.
So I went to her game and then asked her to dinner, where I
babbled earnestly about two memorable free throws I had hit in a
high school game. Bear in mind, she is the alltime leading scorer
in Massachusetts high school basketball history, girls' or boys'.
Her high school--in Southwick--is on Rebecca Lobo Way. In 1995
her unbeaten team at the University of Connecticut won the
national championship, and she was named the tournament's Most
Outstanding Player and the consensus national player of the year.
She dropped in on Letterman, was cut out of Jerry Maguire, won an
Olympic gold medal, had her own Reebok sneaker, had her own
Barbie doll and had the president of the United States sing Happy
Birthday to her in front of 2,000 people--all by the age of 23.
But she didn't say that. Instead, she looked at me with pity and
nodded politely as I nattered on. I was mad about her. She
guest-starred on Mad about You. Seemed like fate to me.
She showed me around Connecticut. It looked, in many ways, like a
benevolent Baghdad. Her face was on checks at People's Bank, on a
wall at her gym, adhered to the stucco interior of the
Guadalajara Grill in Granby. We were crawling in traffic on I-84
when her head emerged, one story tall, on a billboard in downtown
Hartford. (She actually blushed, and we rode for a moment in
But then, her forbearance is breathtaking. At St. Thomas Aquinas
Catholic Church, a block from Madison Square Garden, a congregant
whispered to her at the handshake of peace, "I'd like to see you
get more aggressive on the boards." She said she would do her best.
The world, I discovered, is her friend. Barry Bonds approached in
an airport to say he was a fan. Michael Strahan said the same.
And Charles Barkley. At the NBA All-Star Game a photographer took
our picture with former president Bill Clinton, then asked me to
step out of the frame. "Happens to me all the time," a Secret
Service man whispered in consolation. "You'll get used to it."
But another day, at O'Hare Airport, a man asked to take Rebecca's
picture and then motioned me into the frame. He said, "Get in
there, Andre Agassi."
Her middle name, Rose, is constantly made manifest. In downtown
Boston a man popped from the back of an idling landscaper's van,
jogged over to us and handed Rebecca an enormous white rose. She
thanked him, pointed to me and said, "He's never given me flowers."
In her rookie season, outside the Garden, Rebecca was hugged by a
10-year-old girl from the Bronx. An hour later, when she emerged
from a restaurant, the girl was still there, and this time she
handed Rebecca a red rose. Children send the school reports
they've written about her, hand her cards outside arenas, walk up
to her in the grocery store, as one did the other day, and say,
"I have your Barbie." And though it happens daily, it is never
routine. We'll walk away in silence after one of these
encounters, and then Rebecca will say--when we're on the subway
or in a parking lot--"That just warmed my heart."
Mine too. Last September, on my birthday, she gave me a vintage
1984 Minnesota Twins jersey, with the two fat twins shaking hands
on the sleeve and Kirby Puckett's number 34 on the back. That
afternoon, glazed in flop sweat, I wore it to a meadow in Central
Park. Rebecca lay sunbathing when I abruptly took a knee, so that
I appeared to be--while kneeling over her--attempting to
administer CPR. Instead, I proposed, in the V-neck jersey of a
disgraced icon. She said yes. A homeless man, immediately,
offered us malt liquor from his shopping cart.
Last Saturday we were married. Among our guests was a 16-year-old
girl from the Bronx named Natalia Orta, who had handed Rebecca
that red rose six years ago. The two have been friends ever
since. Last December, in New York City, Rebecca attended one of
Natalia's high school basketball games. Afterward, outside the
gym, Rebecca waited for Natalia. I was there too, and all I could
think, on our walk to the subway, was, That just warmed my heart.
Seemed like fate to me.