NBA Saturday: A Mother’s Sacrifices Impacted Haywood’s Career

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Brendan Haywood has 14 teammates on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Growing up, Team Haywood was two strong.

Brendan was raised in a single-parent family by his mother, Barbara. They lived in New York and moved to Jamestown, North Carolina where Barbara worked as a librarian to provide for her son, an only child, and pay for their three-bedroom, middle class home.

“Me and my mom against the world,” Brendan told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great dynamic. It’s different because she has to be mom and dad, the good parent and the bad parent. It’s not my dad taking me to basketball practice, it’s my mom. I’m watching basketball, trying to learn the game with my mom. It makes you have a closer bond.”

Barbara emphasized the importance of education over basketball. As Brendan was developing into a dominant big man among his peers, his athletic abilities were secondary in the eyes of his mother. It was academics before athletics in the Haywood household.

“There were times where I was eligible to play basketball, but I wasn’t eligible in her mind so she wouldn’t let me,” he said. “She said, ‘I’m not raising you to be average.’ One time I had all Cs and a B. She told my basketball coach, ‘He can’t play. If basketball doesn’t work out, he can’t make it in life being a C student and he has to know that.’

“I had to do what she said. I didn’t play, I got my GPA up. But the good thing is, I was never the guy that had problems passing the SATs because all that was taken care of, SAT prep on the weekends. She made sure I was covered from a knowledge and school standpoint.”

Brendan went on to play college basketball at the University of North Carolina. Before he became the 20th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, Barbara stayed on him to prepare for life without sports.

She examined his course load and was unhappy with a handful of his electives. Change them, she told her son. She wanted him to study subjects that would be applicable in the work place.

“Pick a major that is broad or is something you like or you can get a job if these basketballs stop bouncing,” Brendan recalled her saying.

He declared a major in interpersonal communications. Brendan has worked in television and radio broadcasting, including color commentary for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, during his NBA career.

Brendan’s upbringing wasn’t just about understanding the importance of education; it was also about sacrifice. When money became tight, Barbara lost their home in Jamestown. She had to downsize to a two-bedroom apartment in what he described as a “step below middle class” in Greensboro. Brendan had to enroll in a new school and adjust to his new environment with less space and no backyard.

“We’re going through some hard times financially and we’ve got to do some things that we don’t want to do to survive,” his mother explained.

Brendan saw firsthand how hard his mother worked to provide during these times. In addition to her job as a librarian, she picked up a night gig as a driver for the Steak-Out restaurant delivery service. When Brendan misbehaved at home by himself, she brought him with her on some shifts and required him to do his homework in the backseat. She also pawned her jewelry and didn’t buy new things for herself, instead making sure Brendan had what he needed, including one pair of basketball sneakers he had to make last throughout the season.

Brendan’s first purchase when he was drafted by the Cavs was a new home for Barbara. When the holidays roll around, she tells him he doesn’t have to buy her any gifts – he has already given her everything she could want.

After giving back to his mother, Brendan now gives back to others in similar situations through his foundation, the Brendan Haywood Single Parents Fund.

Over the years, the foundation has sponsored children to go summer camps and after school programs, provided meals during the holidays, and donated backpacks with school supplies. His most meaningful moment through the foundation has been paying the electric bills for a year for a group of mothers.

“That was something they didn’t have to worry about,” he said. “We just try to ease the burden a little bit.”

Mother’s Day, which takes place tomorrow, hits home with Haywood. Barbara is currently retired and living in Greensboro. He is happy to provide for her – and others – after seeing the dedication and commitment she made as a single parent.

“At the time I didn’t realize what was going on, but now I realize that it means a lot my mom was doing that to make a little extra money,” Haywood said. “But that’s what a good mother does, she sacrifices for her kids.”