The first time I ever played my mom in a 1-on-1 game of basketball was when I was 12-years-old. Ever since the day I started walking, she and I would shoot around in our driveway all the time, but I never had the courage to play her 1-on-1 because she was much taller than me (she’s 5’9”) and I was almost certain she would beat me, which I thought would’ve been the single most embarrassing thing to ever happen in my life. Once I hit a growth spurt and stood 6 feet tall as a 12-year-old, though, I had complete confidence that I could destroy her. After all, she was a woman, and the last time I checked, our driveway wasn’t in the kitchen, so I figured she’d be completely out of her element. Plus, I had seen her shoot a basketball for years and her jumpshot consisted of her pushing the ball with two hands from behind her head. Sure she could make them when we were just casually shooting around, but there was no way that that garbage was going in with defense on her. And so, with my terrible rationale giving me all sorts of false confidence, I decided to challenge her to a game of 1-on-1. This still ranks as one of the most regretful decisions of my life.
Perhaps the most important thing I failed to consider when I dared my mom to play me 1-0n-1 was that she was good as sh*t. Like really, really good. Not only that, but she was extremely physical and her style of play was perfectly suited for a driveway pick-up game. I tried driving to the basket on my first possession, but ultimately failed miserably because my mom slid over after I took my first dribble, stuck her chest out, and didn’t budge an inch as I bounced off of her and crumpled to the ground like those skeleton-looking turtles from Bowser’s castle in Super Mario World. At that moment I realized that I was in over my head, but there was no way that she was going to let me quit now, so I had to just suck it up and figure out a different way to beat her. I tried resorting to jumpshots, but when I jumped to shoot the ball on my second possession, she whipped her ass around to block me out and gave me the biggest charley horse I had ever gotten in my life. So to recap, my first two offensive possessions both resulted in zero points and loads of physical pain. This game wasn’t exactly off to a blazing start for me.
Meanwhile, when she was offense, she just backed me down into the post and either threw an elbow to my face as she went up for the layup or she shot a fade away jumper as she turned to the baseline. Remember when I said that I didn’t think she’d be able to make her ugly jumpshot against defense? Well, as it turned out, her ugly shot was actually unblockable because she shot it from so far behind her head (when she faded away it was even harder to guard). And she was lethal with it. Truth be told, her jumper was actually better against defense than it was when she was open. I had no way of guarding it and, making matters worse, I had no answer for it because she was shutting me down on defense. Back and forth this pattern of her physically abusing me on defense and raining jumpshots over my head on offense continued, and when it was all said and done, she had both literally and figuratively beat the snot out of me. I was so battered and bruised that if my dad would’ve come outside and started whipping me with his leather belt, it probably would’ve felt like a massage at that point. In that moment, as I laid on the ground licking my wounds, I remember thinking to myself “Just who in the hell is this lady I call ‘mom’?”
And yes, I was so cool when I was 12 that I casually used the word “hell.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, I researched my mom (which basically just consisted of asking my dad about her and how she was capable of making me look foolish on the basketball court) and discovered that there shouldn’t have been any shame in losing to her (but there still was, because how many guys lose to their mom in basketball?). That’s because I learned that she grew up two hours north of Indianapolis in a town called Rochester, and even though her small town basically consisted of a couple of stop lights and one kickass old-fashioned soda shop, she led her high school basketball team to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and back-to-back trips to the Final Four of the Indiana state tournament (this was back when all the schools played in one tournament, so she was playing schools much bigger than hers). If that’s not impressive enough, consider this: she was also a cheerleader for the boys’ basketball team (and played softball and ran track too) and would sometimes cheer for them in the afternoon and play in her games at night, or vice versa. In fact, in the state tournament one year, she played one of her games in the morning, took a bus to where the boys were playing and cheered that game in the afternoon, then took the bus back to where her second game was being played and went out and led her team to the regional championship that night. This will be the one and only time I use this word to describe a women’s basketball player, but on that particular day my mom was a complete badass (although, let’s be honest – she’s a badass every day).
Following an incredible high school career, my mom was named to the 1977 Indiana All-Star team and was awarded a basketball scholarship to Purdue, where she was twice named team MVP and graduated as both the career scoring leader and the best player in the program’s history. After learning all of this, everything suddenly made so much more sense to me. Throughout my childhood, I often wondered why all my friends’ moms made elaborate meals for dinner and constantly kept their houses clean while my mom would play catch or shoot around with me in the driveway. But now I knew why – my mom was the epitome of a tomboy and while she couldn’t make a casserole to save her life, she had the nastiest fade away I’ve ever seen. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
The reason I bring all this up is not only because Mother’s Day was yesterday, but also because last weekend my mom joined the likes of Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, and John Wooden as she was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Part of my happiness comes from the fact that I’m so proud of her, but a majority of it is derived from the fact that I can now say I lost a game of 1-on-1 to a Hall of Famer instead of saying I lost to my mom. I know most of you would rather have the Navy SEALs break into your house and put a bullet through your eye (USA! USA! USA!) than have to watch women’s basketball, and the truth is that I’m right there with you. But my mom getting inducted into the Hall of Fame is so much more meaningful than just a nice award to commemorate her career as a women’s basketball player. To a lesser extent, it also kind of validates how she raised me. I’m a picky eater because my mom cared more about taking me to Little League practice and taking me to school on the basketball court than she cared about learning how to make food other than grilled meats with mashed potatoes. Conversely, she’s a big reason why I got into basketball and why I became relatively successful at it, which doesn’t sound like much until I think about how many opportunities and experiences the game of basketball has brought to my life. Simply put, I wouldn’t be who I am today if my mom wasn’t as good as she was at basketball, so my hope is that getting inducted into the Hall of Fame can help her understand that even though she doesn’t think she’s a “traditional” mom, I’m proud of her and I wouldn’t have wanted her to raise me any other way. She was a damn good basketball player and she’s a damn good mom. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
After our initial game ended with me physically and emotionally in tatters, I never again asked my mom to play me 1-on-1. We did end up playing a few rematches throughout the years, but that was only because she approached me and I reluctantly agreed (if memory serves, she only ever beat me one more time). Anyway, as I look back on how good my mom was at basketball and how mediocre I ended up being, I can’t help but think that I too would’ve been a Hall of Famer if not for the fact that I made the terrible decision of inheriting just as many genes from my dad as I inherited from my mom. Nonetheless, I’ve got my fingers crossed that someday I will also get immortalized and get my name in the Hall of Fame alongside my mom (which will probably only happen if I get filthy rich and donate a bunch of money to the place or if my NBA career survives the rocky start it’s currently off to and eventually pans out). After her ceremony was over last Saturday, I brought up the possibility of this happening. I jokingly said, “Mom, how cool would it be if I made the Hall of Fame too? I bet we’d be the first mother-son duo.”
She responded: “Well, they put writers in there, so if you get into sports writing, I think you definitely would have a good shot at making it.”
No, she’s not a typical mom. But that’s why I love her so much.
Proud To Be An American But Even Prouder To Be Laura Titus’ Son,
Club Trillion Founder