For the great celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month 2022ESPN Deportes presents this special series, Latinas in the WNBA – past, present and future:
REBECCA LOBO: ICON AND LEGEND
University basketball champion UConn. Olympic champion with USA. WNBA Vanguard. Star, figure, example to follow. Woman of Latin blood.
Might as well be talking about the GOAT, Diana Taurasi… but not. I mean the big rebecca wolfwhose basketball career did not stop with her retirement as a player.
When talking with Lobo, there are two recurring themes: his love for family and his passion for basketball. In this first of two columns on Lobo in our series on Latinas in the WNBA, we examine his legacy in the world of women’s basketball.
UCONN AND LOBO: SPRINGBOARD THAT LED TO THE CREATION OF THE WNBA
It is impossible to cite Lobo’s history on the field without abounding on her university events, since the furor that she and her UConn Huskies for women’s basketball at the national level led in large part to the creation of the WNBA.
His path to success on the court began in high school in Southwick-Tolland Regional High School, where in 1991 she set the all-time record for points scored — by a girl or a boy — in the state of Massachusetts. The record would not be eclipsed until 2009.
Of the roughly 100 colleges that later made offers to her, the 6-foot-4 center selected to go play at UConn under coach Geno Auriemma. That decision arguably helped change the course of women’s basketball history forever.
In her final year, 1995, Lobo was the Final Four MVP, and was unanimously voted National Player of the Year. The team finished with a perfect record, 35-0. Wolf led the UConn Huskies to his first national title, by beating the Tennessee Lady Vols of Pat Summitt.
Lobo and company’s exceptional level of play helped increase Gampel Pavilion attendance during their college years by 485%.
That achievement marked the beginning of the great Storrs dynasty that has won 11 NCAA crowns. The second of those championships would come five years later, when a certain Sue Bird He was playing his second year with the Huskies…
The Cuban-American graduated from UConn as UConn’s all-time leading rebounder (1,286) and blocker (396) and second in points (2,133) on the all-time list.
OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST WITH USA
Right after the title with UConn, Lobo was selected to the United States national team.
It was an arduous preparation under the coach Tara VanDerveer heading to Atlanta 1996. The women’s Dream Team went undefeated and would go on to win the Olympic gold medal, improving on their bronze performance from four years earlier.
Lobo, the youngest member of the team, did not play many minutes. The more experienced players weren’t happy that the public was clamoring for the 22-year-old they just saw shine with UConn.
Still, Lobo describes the experience of playing alongside the likes of Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes Y Dawn Staley as an invaluable one for the next step in your career.
REBECCA LOBO, WNBA PIONEER
The popularity of women’s basketball was growing, and it was due in part to Lobo’s triumphs with UConn. Former NBA Commissioner, David Stern, had great vision at the time to help usher in a new era in women’s professional basketball. Thus the WNBA was born.
When the WNBA was formed in 1997, Lobo was among the first three players selected, along with Swoopes and Leslie. In the initial distribution draft, Lobo was assigned to new york libertywhere he played until 2001.
So now you know the answer to the trivia question: who was the first Latina in the WNBA and when did she start in the league? She was Cuban-American Rebecca Lobo and she started in the WNBA since it was formed in 1997!
What makes her super special is that her contributions at UConn pretty much led to the formation of the league. Not all players can say that. Lobo is a pioneer of the WNBA from several angles.
Wolf was with the Houston Comets in 2002 and with the Connecticut Sun in 2003. But he suffered a torn ACL and was limited to just 38 games in his last four seasons.
After averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds in her first two seasons, she was selected to the league’s inaugural WNBA All-Star Game in 1999. However, she was unable to participate due to injury.
FAVORITE OF LATIN FANS IN THE WNBA
For all the admiration she received en route to the national title under Auriemma’s tutelage, Lobo feels that the fans did not appreciate her as Cuban or Latina, “It’s very interesting because when I was playing my college career at UConn … I was still not really accepted by the community. Latin. I don’t think they realized that my grandfather was Cuban and that I was a quarter Cuban.”
On the other hand, Lobo says that he felt the warmth of the Latino people right away in the fledgling WNBA, “When I entered the WNBA in the late 90s … the Hispanic community really welcomed me,” he recalls. “I would do events for the Hispanic Heritage Foundation or benefit events, or receive a Hispanic Heritage award…and more and more people would come.”
Despite the injuries, the support of the Hispanic fans always motivated her to stay positive. “I clearly remember when she played with the Houston Comets and I was going to play in LA, and a large group of Hispanic fans were waiting to see me and talk to me after the game, wearing my jersey.
It was an incredible, warm feeling of being embraced by a community that was looking for a WNBA player to represent them. That trip was interesting. It wasn’t until I got to the WNBA that they really accepted me for that part of my heritage.”
Without a doubt, Latinos are excited to see ourselves represented in sports… if not by our country, then by someone from Latin America or with Latin roots.
It’s a shame that Lobo didn’t share the court with the next Latina to enter the league; Diana Taurasi he debuted in 2004, when Lobo had already hung up his shirt. That would have been an explosive show.
BASKETBALL WILL ALWAYS BE HIS PASSION
Upon retiring as a player, Lobo just didn’t want to walk away from basketball. Just one year later, in 2004, she started working with ESPN as a female basketball commentator. For her, it is a labor of love.
In the winter season, Lobo covers women’s college basketball, either as a game analyst or from the studio. She excitedly commented that it is her responsibility to call the national championship game.
Incredible privilege to call another @wnba season with this special group (game and studio). Game 4 even more special as my three daughters fan-girled from their arena seats. Love this league. pic.twitter.com/53RgINFxhB
— Rebecca Lobo (@RebeccaLobo) September 19, 2022
Then from spring through fall, he’s the familiar face and voice of WNBA games on ESPN, including the WNBA Finals — in fact, he just had the honor of calling the 2022 Finals in which A’ja Wilson Y Las Vegas Aces they beat the Connecticut Sun in four games to win his first crown.
Confesses Lobo, “It’s really kind of a dream come true, a dream job for anyone who loves basketball.”
Off the court, Lobo continues to promote the league that she gave birth to, which she gave impetus to with her talent on the court… The goal is to attract more fans and inspire more young women to participate in the sport. As the WNBA is about to expand, (another) mission accomplished for Rebecca Lobo.
His knowledge of the sport is fascinating. Calling college basketball, Lobo has a front row seat to the WNBA’s stars of tomorrow. Narrating the WNBA, he is a repository of all the players of yesterday and today, of the teams, of the styles, of the coaches, of the evolution of the league…
When Lobo — already a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2010) and the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame (2016) — received the call to be part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2017 Naismith Memorial, she chose fellow member Auriemma to introduce her at the ceremony.
On stage, he concluded his speech by addressing his former coach, his voice cracking and his eyes almost tearful, “You have changed my life and I am here tonight completely because of you. Thank you”.
In many ways, those words can also be directed towards Rebecca Lobo for all of her tireless work with the WNBA and women’s basketball, on behalf of all those she inspires to be a part of the WNBA, “You have changed my life and I am here… thank you. Thank you”.
We would love to say thanks to the author of this article for this remarkable material
LATINAS IN THE WNBA: The Legacy of Cuban-American Rebecca Lobo