Steve Francis and His Push

Steve Francis is a star basketball player with the New York Knicks. His grandmother, Mable Wilson, is one of his biggest fans—and a stable beacon in a world of dizzying dimensions. Anyone who deals with Steve deals with Mable.

“She’s got my back,” Steve Francis says of his grandmother’s role in his life.

When Steve was 18, his mother Brenda died, and it was Mable, his grandmother, who helped him face his greatest fears and rise to the challenge to better himself.

“My grandmother gave us everything” he said, when talking to reporters in 1999. “She gave us the love, support and balance that we all needed.

“She’s my momma’s momma, and you sense that, even as a kid,” Steve says. “She’s someone who feels the same as your mother, only she’s lived longer, and maybe that gives her more perspective.”

Steve was born into a home where his father was absent but his mother ran a tight ship. And while all the kids looked to Mable as their second mother, Steve was with her the most.

“Of all of us—and there were like 24 grandchildren—she was hardest on me,” he says, “I don’t know why.” Mable can tell you why. She raised six kids and then became the mother to Steve and his three siblings, plus adopted nine of the other grandchildren, eight of whom still live with her. She saw their small failures and successes, the potential that would shape their lives. In Steve, Mable saw talent, but also that ineffable quality that drives kids through discouragement and pain to achieve greatness.

By the time he was a senior in high school, Steve seemed destined to play basketball, but his mother’s death stripped him of certainty about his future, about his place in the world. Mable feared that he’d leave school for good and turn to friends and influences

That would destroy him. She knew, too, that she had to tread carefully: Steve couldn’t be pushed. Mable turned to Tony Langley, Steve’s basketball coach from the Boys Club. Together, they searched out colleges and convinced Steve to go to a preparatory school in Connecticut and to San Jacino Junior College in Texas. He eventually transferred to the University of Maryland.

“It wasn’t like she left me alone, but she talked to me and wanted to see how I’d react,” Steve says. “She let me know that I had a choice—that I could make this a blessing and do something positive with my life”

That’s typical of Mable’s attitude. “Some days I am just so tired, and I pray for patience- -patience most of all,” she says. “But I get up and thank God for the day I had and the day I’m about to have. I am truly, truly blessed.”

Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in July-August 2006 Issue. Reprinted by permission of Stewart, Tabori & Chang from Grandmothers by Lauren Cowen and Jayne Wexler. Copyright © 2005 Lauren Cowen and Jayne Wexler. All rights reserved

 

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