Rebecca Lobo says she wasn't aware of her basketball impact until she saw children wearing replicas of her jersey.
The former UConn and WNBA star was in Springfield on Thursday signing some of those in advance of her enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Now an ESPN analyst, the 43-year-old mother of four says it was after the 1996 Olympics that she first noticed her name on the back of someone else's shirt. But it was her first year in the WNBA, when she saw a young boy wearing her New York Liberty jersey that she figured out she might be making a mark that transcended basketball.
"I just remember thinking at the time, 'Wow, does this mean he's going to look at that little girl next to him differently,'" Lobo said. "If they're out at recess and choosing teams to play soccer or whatever is he going to say, 'You know I was at a Liberty game and those girls can play, maybe I'll choose her.'"
Lobo will enter the Hall of Fame Friday, part of an 11-person with former NBA stars Tracy McGrady and George McGinnis, Kansas coach Bill Self, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, Texas high school coach Robert Hughes, Harlem Globetrotters owner Mannie Jackson, NCAA official Tom Jernstedt and former European star Nick Galis. Former Chicago Bull's general manager Jerry Krause, who died in March and former Globetrotters and New York Rens player Zack Clayton are being honored posthumously.
It's a homecoming of sorts for Lobo, who grew up about 12 miles away in Southwick and visited the Hall of Fame with her family as a child.
"The people who were enshrined were almost like mythical figures to me," she said. "I hadn't seen any of them play, but knew they were titans of the sport. I never dreamed of being in the Hall or thought about it. It seemed like it was an accomplishment for others to aspire to."
Lobo's career numbers were not eye-popping. In college, she averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds. As a WNBA player, she put up 12 points and seven rebounds in her first two seasons before a serious knee injury limited her to 38 games in her last four years.
She enters the Hall as a "contributor" to basketball, which is something her college coach, Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma says is appropriate. Her impact, he said, was much bigger than the numbers.
As fans watched the 1995 UConn team go 35-0, they saw in Lobo a confident, talented, articulate leader of a scrappy team that played basketball with immense skill, poise and enjoyment.
She helped bring women's basketball into the national sports consciousness, he said.
"Rebecca's contribution to the game in some ways is to a whole generation of people and then some, immeasurable," he said. "You can accurately say that for a three to four year period Rebecca Lobo was the most famous basketball player in the country, in the world maybe in the women's game."
WNBA President Lisa Borders said she also was crucial to that league's success.
"Rebecca Lobo is a trailblazer who has played an essential role in the WNBA's growth," she said. "She inspired so many young girls and demonstrated what is possible for them."