Among Mack’s school mementos, I found this sealed envelope inscribed in her handwriting:
A few weeks ago, I opened it. And within it, I found the dreams of an 11-year-old girl written in her handwriting, addressed to her future 21-year-old self:
This is just one of those silly school assignments torn out of a printed activity workbook, but it really does capture the brave hopes and wide eyes of my child. It allows me to know Mack’s dreams at a fixed moment in time. At 11. When the most important thoughts in her head centered on basketball and her friends. What a special memento this is to me now. I wonder if Mack would have remembered writing it. Would she have recognized those dreams of her eleven-year-old self?
Mack worked very hard to achieve the innocent goals she had put into this letter, making her first competitive basketball team just days after writing it. After joining the Predators, Mack dedicated the remainder of her childhood to honing her basketball skills and improving her basketball knowledge. She lived her life with a basketball in her hands so much so that it became a natural extension of her. She bounced it at all hours in her bedroom, making us all crazy. She walked everywhere she went with a basketball tucked between her torso and her inner bicep. And on those rare occasions when Mack was standing still, she loved to entertain with her fancy, ball-handling skills, spinning the ball expertly upon her long fingers. For years there was a basketball rolling around in my car, so Mack could seize every opportunity to bounce it, spin it, or shoot it. She lived in basketball shorts, she gave up her evenings and weekends practicing with her team and shooting hoops in the backyard, and she kept her basketball dreams alive. Mack worked hard and sacrificed much, and we spent so many weekends and so many summers driving her all over the Midwest with her competitive teams that it is sometimes hard for me to think of the young Mack as any other than a basketball player.
It is so sweet to me now to know how important it all had been to her at the tender age of 11. When I think of that kid, full of basketball dreams and sporting the apparel and swagger of an athlete, I cannot help but smile. Here she is at the Fieldhouse in Indianapolis one summer weekend when we attended a WNBA game, where she was in awe of Tamika Catchings, the Indiana Fever point guard. In this photo, she is 11, wearing her Diana Taurasi jersey and her Predator shorts and high-tops. She is, indeed, a basketball player.
Mack played competitive basketball for three very successful competitive traveling teams, playing point guard and winning numerous local tournaments, several regional championships, and one international event. She played in two Gus Macker summer championship title games, winning one and lifting what was always her favorite trophy. It was winning Gus Macker with four of her very best friends that left her with her proudest and happiest basketball memory. Mack did well in school ball, too. She was a two-time all-star player at Franklin Middle School, she earned MVP honors of her 8th grade team, and as a freshman she made varsity at Springfield High School, which went to the Illinois state tournament each of Mack’s four years. Mack had fierce dribbling and ball-handling skills and was a lights-out three-point shooter with a sweet, long stroke. By all accounts, she succeeded in the game. Her hard work served her well.
But like most childhood athletic dreams, Mack’s basketball dreams faded as other interests crowded into her busy life. By her junior year of high school, Mack was losing the desire to put in the hard work needed to play to the best of her abilities, and instead of dreaming of UConn and the WNBA, she was dreaming of college and of her intellectual future. When Mack returned to the Fieldhouse in Indy with her last Predator team the summer before her senior year of high school, she already believed the time was coming for her to leave the game she loved behind her. Posing in the lobby of the arena this time, Mack is 17. This time, that basketball is not quite so big in comparison to my nearly 5’10” girl; nor is it so big in Mack’s more grown-up imagination, either. That weekend tournament was more about hanging with friends than playing ball, more about making memories with her teammates than about improving her jump shot against Indiana’s best players.
By senior year, Mack knew in her head and in her heart that she had lost her desire to play competitive basketball, and a tyrannical high school coach made her decision to give up the game even easier. She toyed with playing at Oberlin, a Division III school; but in the end, she was ready to hang up her high-tops and ready to focus on her intellectual skills instead of her dribbling skills. I questioned Mack’s decision to stop playing, and I applied a great deal of pressure on her to make her change her mind. I had a hard time understanding why she would put in the years of hard work and then stop short of playing in college. But I soon realized that Mack was ready for a life without the game, she was dreaming about life without the game, and she was open to a future beyond it. It took me some time, but I ultimately accepted her choice, and I was proud of her for having the courage to make it.
You know, Mack never regretted her decision to stop playing basketball, but she never regretted the sweat and sacrifices she had made for basketball, either. I think Mack would say that she had not failed to achieve the dreams of her 11-year-old self, but rather the dreams of her 18-year-old self had changed. Basketball dreams had inspired a wonderful childhood journey, and pursuing the game played an important role in the young woman she had become. She was proud of that, and she knew that basketball had served her well. But basketball did not define her, nor did she want it to define her. She wanted to be more than just a basketball player. And in her mind, and in the minds of everyone who knew her, Mack was oh so very much more than just basketball player.