McGees keep it in the family
In 1987, Pamela McGee sat in Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, Calif., with a heavy heart and an unwanted pregnancy in her womb. An abortion was scheduled in two days. She came seeking comfort. Instead, her religious convictions turned her world upside down.
She listened to the pastor's sermon about life being a precious gift. The message was received; she canceled the abortion.
McGee was a standout basketball player at USC, winning NCAA titles in 1983 and '84, before graduating with degrees in economics and communications. She earned a gold medal at the '84 Olympics.
But at that moment, McGee was 24, alone and struggling with the prospect of juggling a newborn while continuing her professional basketball career. JaVale's father was no longer a part of her life.
By leaning on her faith, she found her way.
McGee established a professional career that included stints in the Spanish, Italian and Brazilian leagues, plus two seasons in the WNBA for the Sacramento Monarchs (1997) and Los Angeles Sparks (1998).
By 2008, more than two decades after the fateful day in church, McGee basked in the glory of her decision to become a parent as her son, JaVale McGee, was drafted by the Wizards in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft. That selection created the first WNBA-NBA mother-son duo in history. Since then, Pamela has remained behind the scenes, guiding JaVale's career as his financial manager.
"He is my greatest accomplishment and my greatest blessing," Pamela said.
That says a lot coming from a woman whose résumé includes an impressive playing career and a WNBA championship as an assistant coach with the Detroit Shock in 2003.
Life wasn't always rosy, though. In 1996, McGee and her husband of two years, Reverend Kevin Stafford, divorced. A highly publicized custody battle ensued over the couple's young daughter, Imani, JaVale's half sister. Stafford argued that Pamela traveled too much as a professional basketball player and could not properly care for their daughter. The courts agreed. Stafford left Pam and JaVale with nothing and forced them to start over.
Then, in 2000, the elder McGee defeated her toughest opponent to date: breast cancer. She's in complete remission and chooses not to dwell on how long she has been cancer-free.
"Why count the years?" she said. "I'm healthy now and that's all that matters. I have no time to look back."
And why would she? Her focus now is on JaVale's future and life after basketball.
"As JaVale's financial manager, I talk to him about establishing a financial foundation," Pamela said. "Whether he is successful in basketball or gets hurt tomorrow, he needs to make sure he has his financial base."
Like any business relationship, heads often collide. Pamela is working on recognizing when to be a mom and when to be a financial manager.
The latest squabble arose when JaVale, who already owned a Mercedes, wanted to purchase an SUV. JaVale had to ask his financial manager for permission to release the funds to his discretionary account, a process he is required to follow for all his major purchases.
Pamela assessed his assets and denied the SUV transaction.
"I have to keep telling him, 'You can't buy the same stuff that LeBron James buys. LeBron is on his third deal,'" Pamela said.
She also likes to remind JaVale that his grandmother scrubbed toilets for $1.25 an hour when she was growing up.
"Don't think you just got here. There were sacrifices made for you," she tells him.
JaVale knows his mother's slogan is, "If it don't make cents, then it don't make sense." So, after the initial rejection, he shopped around. He found a zero-percent financing deal on a Chevy Tahoe, which satisfied his mother.
The arrangement is not the norm for multimillionaires like JaVale, but it's the law in the McGee household.
Pamela is the captain of JaVale McGee's team, which includes financial advisors, accountants and agents who work hard to protect her son. Her secret to maintaining his wealth lies in her USC education and negotiating his financial deals as if she were still a struggling single parent living in Flint, Mich.
"Five hundred dollars may not be a lot of money to JaVale, but $500 is a lot for me," Pamela said.
Since JaVale signed his rookie deal with the Wizards in 2008, Pamela has prepared her son for a potential NBA lockout by having him set up an emergency bank account. Her next big project is forming the right team to negotiate the details of his new contract in 2013, when JaVale becomes a restricted free agent.
Indeed, they have come a long way. From being a single mom home-schooling her son in Europe, to being JaVale's best friend overseas and now managing his finances, the McGees' bond is strong. Some call it strange, especially as Pamela yells instructions to JaVale from her second-row seat at the Verizon Center. Others say she has a "crazy stage mom" persona.
"I was there before people knew who JaVale McGee was," Pamela said. "I was the one who got up at six o'clock in the morning every day before school to practice with him, telling him, 'Son, if this is what you want to do, then this is the work that you have to put in.'
"If people want to call that crazy, then go ahead. I'm a single parent with a 7-foot son in the NBA who can dunk off two rims with three balls. Now that's what I call crazy," she said referring to JaVale's performance in the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, which also earned him a Guinness World Record.
Since that day in the church rafters, her dedication to her son is without question. She has made tough decisions for her family, and it has led her and JaVale to the place they are now, where she's grateful to work for her son and help him build his legacy on and off the court.
It is the family business, after all.
"The Kennedys do politics," she said, "And the McGees do basketball."