Pam McGee is an Olympic basketball gold-medalist, former WNBA star, cancer survivor, astute entrepreneur and the mother of Denver Nuggets' dynamic playmaker Javale McGee. Now she has her own TV show.
Mom’s Got Game is the hit new Reality TV show airing Saturday nights at 10pm on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. “The Kennedy’s do politics. The McGee’s do basketball,” Pam explains in one of the show’s first episodes.
Mom’s Got Game differs from this current genre of suspect reality shows about basketball culture, in that it explores the positive relationship between Pamela and her 26-year-old son, who she raised as single mother into a business man and affluent NBA baller.
Famous for being domineering on and off the court, Pam is not only JaVale’s mom, she’s also his business manager, working to create an empire while trying to keep a lock on the glitz he’s bound to want to acquire with his newfound wealth and the groupies that come with the life of an NBA star.
Meanwhile, Pam is managing her own life, which consists of her crew of fabulous single girlfriends who also have sons on the NBA come-up. Like Pam, they are mothers raising their sons while dating and chasing their own ambitions. When she needs support, her girls are front and center. Their unity, business acumen, honesty and genuine love for each other makes this show a hit without cheap, compromised entertainment tactics and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes. McGee shares her hopes and dreams for the show and her son in an exclusive interview with The Shadow League.
JR: Whose idea was it to venture into the intrusive and judgmental world of Reality TV?
PM: I wasn’t really into doing reality TV. My team came to me and pitched the idea. I felt like I had already played in the WNBA, won a Gold medal and played with some of the greatest women woman athletes ever at USC like Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper. I wasn’t seeking any fame; you can Google me to find out who I am.
But when Javale was signing his big contract , I had my videographer who tapes everything, come and say, “ Look just tape signing this contract because it’s going to change your family,” break a generational cycle of poverty and be part of my mother’s legacy. My mother cleaned toilets for $1.25 hour to send her kids to college and I graduated from USC, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. I wanted to document the culmination of that journey. It was taken to a guy who wanted to pitch it for Sony TV. People are always pitching me ideas and I was like whatever. Most of the time they say they know somebody, but it never happens.
I was in Virginia. I have another house down there and they said Holly Jacobs, President of Reality TV at Sony, wanted to meet with me. We met for two hours and she said, “Pamela we have to do your story because we need to have different images in the media. People need to see you and your son’s relationship”. I’m a breast cancer survivor too. People need to hear my story. Pamela described my circle of friends as “chicks with trophies” rather than the “trophy chicks” you see on other shows.
Joining Pam on the show are her sisters-in-solidarity; Val Steele, who’s still the leading scorer for men and women at University of Kentucky, legendary Kym Hampton, who played in the WNBA and Monique Payton, who was married to Gary Payton.
Mom’s Got Game” shows women who handle their business. I’m tired of seeing women out there that think that we always got to have a man to rescue us to be successful and that you got to marry a rich man. All my girls are disproving that. As African-American women we have to show versatility in the images that are projected onto the screen. It’s hard to find men that make as much money as we do sometimes and that’s a real part of the struggle of being independent and successful women.
JR: How did it end up on OWN?
PM: We pitched it to so many networks and they all wanted it, but when I found out Oprah Winfrey wanted it on her network, I said, “It’s over, we are rolling with OWN. For me being an African-American female and growing up with Oprah Winfrey, and seeing what she’s trying to do, I always felt like we have to support powerful sisters. I’m not a hater. I was like “Oprah’s wants it, let’s go.”
JR: What are you ultimately hoping to accomplish by doing the show?
PM: All of my friends are beautiful and I was upset with CNN and all of these “housewives shows” because they give you the impression that black women don’t love each other. My show is different because you see the love on the show and all of these girls are my real girlfriends that I've known for 20 or more years. I don’t know your story, but all my girls support me. We’re not fighting or throwing bottles at each other. When I was on the grind and fighting breast cancer and when I had to go through a tough divorce, all of my girls were like, “What can we do to help you? We’re here, we got you. “You will see that on the show. We are strong black women who are unified and strong and about raising our kids on our own if we have to. I’ve always worn both hats to the best of my ability; the hat of the woman and the hat of the man because raising a boy requires both and you need a good circle of supportive, positive people. In that regard we show a strength and communal unity that actually is reflective of our African culture.
These other reality shows project an image and spread a culture bred from deep European influence. We are women who stand on integrity and the belief that we will handle our business and maintain our lifestyles under any circumstances. And the way a community truly thrives is for the women to work together, especially if we have to raise a man child on our own.
JR: You have a personal assistant that you refer to as a “manny.” What’s that all about?
PM: People always ask, "what’s a manny?” It’s a male personal assistant who is not gay. People have to understand black women are evolving. He was an electrician and was doing some work for me. Eventually we became friends and he started taking extra concern for my stuff. I went away on a trip and he had my clothes laid out, everything in order and was very efficient. I said, “You need to be my personal assistant” and he did.
We’re just business partners. There’s been a paradigm shift and sisters are getting paid. Brothers especially have to learn to deal and adjust to this. I call it the "The Amazonian Discombobulation.” Sisters, we can’t be feeling sorry for ourselves and I’m not going to apologize for doing what I got to do. It seems that women, we have to apologize for making money and getting out here and grinding. We are still beautiful and sexy and like to date and have fun, but we are about our business. I tell everybody on my team and that works for me that this is a DC-10 and there are enough seats for everybody to get in but it’s going to take off. Either get your stuff or get off the runway. We got to stop walking in abuse and walk in abundance.
JR: What was it like raising Javale?
PM: I eventually had to give up playing basketball to raise my son. But 26 years later, l look at the blessing God gave me. That’s what the show is about it’s a testimony. I want all those single mothers who are in that grind and when the month is long but the money is short, we can still raise sons of destiny whether regardless of our circumstances. Through all of my struggles, now sisters can see another sister in me who has been there. And when they are going along they can see my story and how I made it and know it’s possible for them because I had to raise a man and deal with the struggles that come along with that. We talk about that in the show. He’s doing his own thing and I’ve trained him, but I still try to manage him on making more conscience decisions in his business career.
Like when Javale wanted to cop the $400,000 Maybach and the financially-prudent Pam deaded the whole situation. Instead, her son still managed to sneak some funds to get his mom a Porsche for her 51st birthday.
PM: I played professional basketball in Europe and traveled all over the country before playing in the WNBA for eight years. I balled in Italy, France, and Brazil and everywhere I went. Javale was always at the end of the bench with a nanny. From a young age, he learned about negotiating because every team I had to go to and move to, he also had to switch. So he would ask me about the kind of benefits they were giving me and so forth and want to know what his cut was. To be able to be able to watch him play is a blessing and we get to share our story with the world.
JG: You graduated from USC with a degree in finance and economics. Do you have any other businesses besides managing Javale’s enterprise?
PM: I have other clients and a management company. I also partner with Javale, helping to run his entertainment company and other TV projects. I have a background in business and I’m lucky because I have a 26-year old son that’s not only smart but an astute businessman
JG: We know you were ecstatic about Javale’s $44 million deal. What makes him a great talent worthy of that type of investment?
PM: My sons an enigma. He’s a talent that no one has ever seen before. He’s a 7-footer that can jump out the gym with the hands and speed of a guard. A lot of teams wanted my son.
JR: People sometimes refer to you as a “momager.” Why don’t you like that?
Pam McGee: I’m not a "momager." I’m a business manager that happens to be his mother. I played the game so therefore momengers have to live vicariously through their kids and are seeking fame through their kids. I’m an Olympic gold medalist. I came into the game to protect my son from people who take advantage of him. Sometimes I have to distinguish the difference, because sometimes when I’m working with people. They say we didn’t want to call his momma. I said I am his business manager and I sign your check so in this capacity you didn’t do what you are supposed to do
I’m in the sports industry. Very few women do what I do. I handle all of his financial providers. When you’re a man of wealth you got a commodities guy, a banker, an agent, and all these people are on your team and make money off of you.
It almost becomes a hindrance and they try to disrespect you by saying you are just his momma. But now people respect me on another level, and Mom's Got Game, shows that.
His rookie year in the league I moved in with him to help him transition into the NBA, but when you are young and get into new money...well one thing everybody has their hand in your pocket and everybody wants to charge him five times as much for stuff because he’s an NBA guy. So I help him keep what he already has and as a business manager I make sure he’s not paying three times amount for things because he’s an NBA player.
Many times athletes go broke because they are over there budget and doing way too much. That’s where the momma comes in. As a business manager they may not stop the spending because they are afraid to lose their jobs. At the end of the day, when the media crucifies him and if he doesn’t play well anymore I’ll always be his mother. He knows that and that’s why our relationship is so touching and looks so good on TV, people can’t understand our relationship.
JG: Explain what you mean by the terms Ecolibrium and Egolibrium?
PM: Well our reality show has people with ecolibrium. People who say, “I’m glad you’re doing your thing and congratulate you and bask in the glory of success with you. They understand that if we all on the same level then we all eat.
With Egolibrium…it's all about me. I did this. The person is consumed with themselves. They don’t understand that someone spoke into their life and inspired them and even cleaned a toilet for them to get there.
PM: The station said we haven’t been producing the ratings that we need to get picked up again a second season, so we need everyone reading this that wants to see positive or alternative “black” programming like Mom’s got Game to express that on social media with likes and support for the show. People are always complaining about the negative images of black women that these reality shows perpetuate and now we have a show that is the complete opposite and if we don’t get renewed people are going to complain that the show was taken off the air. So we have to not just complain about these shows that misrepresent us, but we have to support it by watching on Saturdays at 10pm and living it out in life by supporting our sisters and building a network of powerful upliftment.
JG: What kind of lasting effects do you think the show can have?
PM: We got to stop believing the negative hype about what we can’t do. When Obama got a second term, I told all of my African–American brothers and sisters that the lid is off. The image is already uncovered and the effect is done. Once Obama was elected you saw his story and was inspired. He pulled in with a beautiful sister, a real sister not a fake sister. Michelle is from the Southside of Chicago, graduated from Princeton and as soon as she walked into the room, Obama was like, “Wow.”
There’s nothing like seeing black on black love. What we’re showing in Mom’s Got Game is that young girls need to do their own thing and they can ride up on their own white horse, and brothers ride up on their white horse and they come together for a beautiful life. But sisters don’t have to sit around and wait for some guy to save them.
The enemy has told us that we don’t have the right to walk in the land of abundance, but we know that we can be President now. For my family, Diane McGee to Pam McGee to Javale McGhee, there is a legacy there. We are survivors and God blessed me with a beautiful son.
JG: You are very big on positive images. Now 50 years old, what image sparked your ambitions as a young black woman?
PM: I saw a lady named Lusia Harris on the cover of an Ebony magazine in 1976. She was 6’-2” – the height I am now - and just from seeing that image. I said, “Wow, they have women in the Olympics and she looks like me.” I wanted to be an Olympian just by seeing her. Those are the kinds of images people need to see with or without a man. We need a balance in how black women are portrayed on television and it needs to accurately reflect the way society is shifting.
Check Mom’s Got Game Saturday nights at 10 pm EST on OWN.