Most Valuable Mothers: The Role of Moms in the Lives of Pro Athletes


The world’s greatest athletes have many things in common. Words like strength, sacrifice, and determination are shared amongst them. Something else they all share, is that these qualities that helped them become elite were taught to them and cultivated by some amazing mothers. From working several jobs to make ends meet to going above and beyond to advocate for their children, here are just a few examples of how motherly love has impacted some of our favorite athletes.


Wanda Durant (Kevin Durant)

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While KD is somewhat of a polarizing player today, there is no denying his skill on the basketball court. There is also no denying how touching his 2014 NBA MVP acceptance speech was, in which he declared that his mom was “the real MVP.” Wanda Durant helped Kevin become who he is today by providing for him and his brother as a young single mother. Kevin reported that she would wake him up early in the morning and make him run hills and do pushups. The speech inspired a Lifetime movie entitled, “The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story.” She continues to be a big part of KD’s life, offering advice and support. She is currently working with several nonprofit organizations including The Boys and Girls Club of America and Single Parents Support Network in order to help the next generation of parents and children in need.

Dianna Collins (Mookie Betts)


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Becoming the first player in Major League Baseball history to win an MVP, Silver Slugger, Golden Glove, and the World Series in a single season, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts reached the pinnacle in 2018 at the age of 26. A three-time All-Star, Betts would be a welcomed addition to any roster. However, it wasn’t always that way. When he was just starting out in Little League in Tennessee, nobody would allow him on their team because he was so undersized. This is how his mother, Dianna Collins, became his first baseball coach. She rounded up other kids that were not able to get onto teams and created her own. Though they did not have a particularly successful year, winning only a couple of games, her efforts taught these kids about the game of baseball and the importance of perseverance.

Tonya Johnson (Saquon Barkley)


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As the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Saquon Barkley has had a lot to live up to. Being an elite football player has always been one of Barkley’s goals. He is well on his way after a great rookie season, in which he lead the league in all-purpose yardage and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Another important goal of Barkley’s was buying a new house for his parents who played such a pivotal role in his success. He accomplished that goal last June when he purchased his parents a new home outside of Philadelphia. Barkley credits his mother, Tonya Johnson for moving him and his siblings out of the Bronx to a smaller town in Pennsylvania. Once there, Barkley’s asthma symptoms improved, and he and his siblings were able to safely enjoy the parks and playgrounds without the troubles of their old neighborhood and with more positive opportunities. Johnson surprised Barkley with a heartfelt letter to him on the day he was drafted, letting him know how proud she was of the man he had become.

Gloria James (LeBron James)


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LBJ has reached legendary status on and off the court, with storybook career and his various business and entertainment endeavors. We have heard his story many times by now. His mother, Gloria James, had him when she was 16 and struggled financially. There was a point in a young Lebron’s life in which he moved in with a local football coach while his mother worked and saved up for an apartment for their family. After that, things still were not easy for the two of them. They moved from place to place and LeBron missed a lot of school. So much so that he was almost held back in fourth grade. He and Gloria worked through a stack of extra credit assignments together in order for him to pass. LeBron has expressed that his mom was everything to him and he would write her Father’s Day cards as well as Mother’s Day cards. Now a father of three himself, LeBron is amazed by what his mother did, once stating, “There is no way, even in the position that I am in today, would I be able to raise LeBron [Jr.] by myself or Bryce by myself.”

Sabrina Greenlee (DeAndre Hopkins)


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Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been a leader on the field since he entered the NFL in 2013. Now with the help of his mother, Sabrina Greenlee, he is beginning to develop as a leader in the fight against domestic violence. Greenlee grew up impoverished in South Carolina. At the age of 14,  Greenlee entered her first abusive relationship.By the time she was 17, she had been hospitalized three times due to domestic violence. Greenlee skipped out on her Senior picture day because she was embarrassed of the two black eyes she received from her boyfriend at the time. When Hopkins was 12 years old, his mother was blinded in a chemical attack by a girlfriend of one of her abusers. Though she has never seen any of her son’s 47 NFL touchdowns, she has attended nearly all of Houston’s home games to support her son. Despite all the hardship she went through while raising four children, she managed to help all of them get to college, which according to her is her proudest accomplishment as a mom. Today she works with her son to help victims of domestic violence in South Carolina by offering financial and emotional support to victims.

Jolinda Wade (Dwyane Wade)


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After completing his 16-year NBA career with three NBA championships, 13 All-Star selections, and a Finals MVP award, there is little doubt that the NBA Hall of Fame is in Dwyane Wade’s future. A bright future is something that he and his mother now share, especially when compared to the darkness in their past. Raising a family as a single mother on Chicago’s south side is no easy feat but doing so while addicted to drugs and alcohol is impossible. For all of Dwayne’s childhood his mother, Jolinda, was in and out of jail and rehabilitation programs. This made it so Dwyane and his siblings had to move around quite a bit and things were never stable for the Wade family. It wasn’t until Dwayne was a sophomore at Marquette University when Jolinda was at a church service and decided to turn herself in on an arrest warrant she had been evading and get clean for good. She expressed that she felt she failed Dwayne over and over again, but he never gave up on her, often visiting her in prison. Upon her release in 2003, she began to study ministry with the goal of eventually becoming a pastor. In 2008, Dwayne bought her a church in Chicago to help her realize her dream. When he helped her open the church, he told the Associated Press, “People think I’m the miraculous story in the family. I think she is.”