Behind the Bench – National Basketball Wives Association
Behind the Bench is an organization comprised of a wonderful group of women who stand by the sisterhood of empowerment within their communities. Entrepreneurs, mothers, students, travelers, and organizers of their own individual causes, Behind the Bench is here to tell the world that each woman has something to contribute to someone else’s life. It is the words in which they speak that provide inspiration for others.
Meet some of the members of Behind the Bench: Sandra Evans Short , Shelby Frances, Regina Buckner, Candace Ford, Donella Thorpe and Ashley Walker Alston. A special thank you to Dee Dee Abdur-Rahim for the intial introduction.
Trisha LaNae’: Sandra I am going to start with you, what is the origin of Behind the Bench and what was the purpose for starting the organization?
Sandra Evans Short : Behind the Bench originated in 1993. When we first started most of those wives were wives of player representatives, each team has a players representative, when they would meet annually for their formal meeting we would meet informally. I remember the year before we started we were all sitting on a beach in Hawaii and we started talking about the things that we were going through and what we had going on in our life that nobody understood because sometimes people think if you have money you don’t have any problems. That next year, Deborah Williams our founder, created the organization as a sisterhood to help each other out in our respective cities. In 1995, we started our charitable trust with a group of powerful ladies who had the energy that we could get something done and make a difference through our philanthropic work with various organizations. During that same year, we did our first event for the Boys and Girls club of Minnesota for All Star Weekend and raised $9,500 dollars.
After doing the All Star weekend our thoughts were we had to do something for ourselves. There are two events we do in the year and that is All Star weekend in February where we do our fundraisers and then there is the conference we hold where all the wives get together the third weekend in September…a weekend where it is totally about us and there are no husbands or children for the most part. Every now and again a husband or two would come to the conference thinking it was about them (laughs!)
We have the conference in September to encourage each other in whatever we are doing. Many of us have businesses and so we want to know about that…let us support one another is what we want to do. For our sisterhood its like, “If I am in your city, I am going to send people to you based on your business or what you do.”
To pick a fundraiser for All Star weekend we go to a city to find a non-profit and it is up to the chair person from Behind the Bench to research that non-profit on behalf of everyone else. Each year we choose a different non-profit and have worked with such foundations such as: The Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Susan G. Komen, Harlem Hospital, Children’s Assessment Center (Houston), The Orlando Cultural School of Dance and the Academy for Autism to name a few.
This year coming up for our 20th anniversary Black and white Gala we will partner with the Girls, Inc. of Greater Houston and put together a fundraiser and donate those funds because BTB is a 501(c)(3) and so we use the other part of the funds for when we start giving to smaller groups.
Trisha LaNae’: Sandra you spoke about sisterhood. How important is it to maintain your own identity? Is it difficult when you come into the whole basketball world?
Sandra Evans Short: I will let some of the younger women answer that (laughs!)
Shelby Frances: I would say it’s very important to have an identity because we probably get judged as a whole a lot of the time. I think finding your identity is very important!
Trisha LaNae’: With each of you ladies, how do you want to be identified? This was asked to the ladies to address the stigma that society has when mentioning the word wives and basketball in the same sentence.
Shelby Frances: Shelby (laughs!) I’m pretty sure I can speak for everybody at this table that when you are introduced they say that’s blah blahs wife or that is his girlfriend or his baby mama…whatever the case is. Ninety percent of the time you are never labeled as your name, you’re always introduced as whoever’s wife.
Sandra Evans Short: Collectively we use our Behind the Bench organization name and we also use the name Player’s Wives in accordance to players being retired or active.
Asha LaShae’: I want to ask on a personal level what are some of things that many of you ladies do individually.
Ashley Walker Alston: I am getting my Masters degree in community counseling. I also have my own foundation that has nothing to do with my husband’s foundation. My foundation is called Ashley Walker’s Mission of Love. We do mission trips to Africa and I have a mentoring program called A Girls Life under my foundation in Missouri City, TX for adolescent girls. This is why I am going back to school so I can obtain my LBC in counseling and broaden my program. I want to do more than a mentoring program I want to do counseling benefits as well. I expect to graduate in the fall of 2013.
Sandra Evans commented that for many of the wives, they are not in one location for very long and so there is that balance of family life and tending to ourselves that becomes important and then just knowing how to handle it all.
Regina Buckner: I have four children that are still school age so for me I really try to balance my time. God is my number one, He is the reason for anything that I have, and He has kept me grounded and realizing my blessings through everything that I have and keeping it together. I keep God at the forefront and I incorporate that into my kid’s lives. I just try to make sure that I am being what they need as a mom and being what I need to be as a wife and what I need to be for myself. Family is very important whether it’s spending time with my sisters or my mom, I just like family. My balance in all that is God being in it.
I do have my own aspirations but being mom and wife is really important to me…it’s number one! Having young children and the youngest being twins, they really need me. I’ve tried to go outside that and I’ve always gone to school to better myself, I recently stopped but I will be going back next year but we’re new to Houston. My time right now is just being still and doing what God wants me to do and being there for my family. This is what was spoken to my heart; I just need to be still and pray where God wants to use me best.
It’s hard though, it takes some time to get to those realizations and you go through some things. The point of life where I am now is that it is time for me to do something and in whatever I do, I want to give back. I have passions for things like fashion and everything beauty. I feel God speaking to my heart to give back in those areas and that is my next transition.
Candace Ford: I feel like I am super mom. Some of my friends will visit and may see what goes on in my day and they will be like, “Gosh, how do you do it!” People always think it’s easy or may think we do not have anything to do all day. I have a fourteen week old so I am up at 5 am in the morning, I cook breakfast for my children and I take them to school. After school it’s either Spanish lessons, football practice for my son and dance for my daughter. In the mist of that I own an ambulance company in addition to being there for my husband and so for me I wear many hats. It’s just not being the wife of a basketball player but I am mother, friend, daughter, and sister. It’s similar to what Regina mentioned, that by the grace of God is what pushes me to do all of those things and I manage to do it every day and so that’s my job.
Asha LaShae’: You all are giving a different perception to who you are in contrast to what you may appear to be to others. Many of us can look at you and think you’re immaculate from head to toe and there is the lifestyle with the beautiful homes…so thank you for sharing some of your personal thoughts.
Candace Ford: For me the negative talk was a driving force for me. You know I have gone back to school and done what I needed to do and it’s not just about my husband, it’s about what I can bring to the table as well. I believe everything I do is for my kids because they are my legacy. I want my kids to see in me and in their father as well, what they need to bring forth to their next generation. My children can hear it all day long but I need them to see it!
Asha LaShae’: Leaving a legacy is very important and is something Beautifully Said talks about quite often. It is understanding that we have to leave our children something more than material, it has to be something that continues on past any physical presence.
Shelby Frances: I am actually the Co-Founder of the Steve Frances Foundation. We give scholarships to kids in the Houston area to colleges all over the world. We have about forty students in the system and twenty have actually graduated. We do a big event every year to give out those scholarships.
I am a mom first and foremost and that never sleeps (laughs!) I am basically pretty busy with motherhood and the foundation. I am also in school for social work because I do believe in inspiring other people. I am really big on children and inspiring them!
Sidebar: BTB member, Dee Dee Abdur-Rahim was not present for the interview but was affectionately mentioned as being the ever fashionable sports mom with her chic attire and cute hats. We say, keep being fashionably stylish for your kids by way of California…yeah we’re partial because it our hometown state *smiles*
Dee Dee briefly talked to Beautifully Said Magazine prior to this interview. She said the organization is near and dear to her heart because it speaks of community service. Dee Dee has been a member since 2003 and is a practicing attorney with licenses in multiple states. She resides in California with her husband and children.
The table talk continues….
Donella Thorpe: I am a mom and one of the directors for the Lake Travis Education Foundation. I raise my children and take care of my husband and home. Showing my kids the world is very important to me. When my kids were born my husband and I said that by the time they graduated high school we wanted them to have visited every state in America. Right now we have eight states left and my children ages are 16 and 12. My children have been to four different countries and we’re going to Australia over the holidays. We want our children to know what else is out there aside from what’s going on in our area of Austin, TX. We want them to experience different cultures. Like you mentioned about legacy, we want our children to do the same for their kids.
Family unity—Donella has T-shirts made for her family for every vacation they take in the summer. We make mention of this because it’s important for our readers to know how important family is to the BTB members.
Wherever we have our itinerary of where we are going my children research the places and tell us what they will be doing in those places and not just waiting on us (parents) telling them what they should do. My husband and I want to know what our childrens interest are so we all pick a place and that way everyone gets to experience and enjoy the trip. Sidenote: My son won the GOP at his school because he knew all his geography (laughs!)
Asha LaShae’: Again just as I mentioned earlier there is something in which you all speak about that can inspire someone else. Just in what Donella spoke about with her upcoming trip to Australia, there may be someone that cannot take their children to Australia but there is the library where they can go and travel to those countries through books…just to show their children there are places that exist outside their immediate world.
Sandra Evans Short: That’s who we are…women who have these stories to tell.
Sandra Evans Short referenced with permission that Ashley Walker Alston was briefly on the VH1 reality show Basketball Wives but how the wonderful works of some NBA wives who appeared, were of course edited. Being in television and media for many years, Sandra explains how a beautiful piece can be edited to televise something completely opposite. From the conversation around the table, it was known by us all that wonderful works of humanity don’t make the cut in the world of sensationalized (reality) TV. BTB displays that a group of intelligent, loving, supportative, and thriving women can work hard to sustain their family, individual endeavors, and the sisterhood that is the blueprint for helping so many others.
We asked the ladies the following question. Do you believe the image of women on reality shows could be controlled more if we asserted ourselves more so behind the camera (e.g. producers and directors) instead of the protrayal that is viewed in front of the camera?
Ashley Walker Alston: No, I believe if these women did not act a certain way on these reality shows the people behind the camera would have nothing to showcase.
Trisha LaNae’: I see some women of reality shows showing who they are through television of course but on the flip side I see the BTB members showing who they are through the organization and with that being said, what are some of your upcoming events? And what does BTB mean to each of you?
Sandra Evans Short: All Star Weekend 2013 is going to be here in Houston and so we will mark our 20th anniversary as an organization. Then there is also our conference that is just for us that we will have in September with Miami being our location.
Ashley Walker Alston: What BTB means to me is that during the last conference in which I attended, the members got together and did a circle and that represents BTB and the sisterhood that we have.
The “Sisterhood Circle” as told to Beautifully Said has been a staple for the BTB because many of the women have endured different things and this allows the women to talk about what is going on with each of them.
In all it was a wonderful time speaking with each of the ladies and hearing their stories of how they balance their life. It is important for us to never assume that because someone has money there are never any problems that exist. Behind the Bench is like most other groups that come together to encourage one another and form a bond that is unbreakable. Each lady that we spoke with has a commonality that allows them to understand and reach out to each other than to anyone else outside of their lifestyle who would not understand. We purposed to not do an article going around the table to ask who was married to whom…that was not our agenda. We came into the beautiful home of one of the members to simply get to know the women Behind the Bench. These women speak of what they do with high regard and we are happy to know that aside from the world of basketball and money, they’re there to support and be there for their families like anyone else. Perception is a word that floated around in our conversation a bit and what we gathered from that word is no one knows the inner struggles that a person deals with. What was important to us and what we wanted to convey to the BTB members was that each of their stories is able to touch someone else. We say a sprinkle of inspiration can go a long way. Thank you BTB for the wonderful and intimate conversation. You all are fabulous women and we enjoyed our sisterhood chat with you.
…This is where we all pranced off to take our stairwell picture Lol!
Top (l to r) Shelby Frances, Ashley Walker Alston, Donella Thorpe, Regina Buckner;
Bottom (l to r) Trisha LaNae’, Candace Ford, Asha LaShae’, BTB President, Sandra Evans Short
Top (stairwell picture) BTB – Leading Ladies Tea
Photo of Dee Dee Abdur-Rahim courtesy of Taylor Ector Photography
BTB – Academy for Autism Visit
BTB photos courtesy of: 106FOTO – Photography of Life