‘It’s created such a sisterhood.’ New Raptor Khem Birch’s mom has a podcast for NBA mothers, and so many stories to tell

The elation in the voice of Wendy Sparks is palpable about eight hours before her son was to fulfil one of his life’s dreams.She’s on the phone from her Montreal home: the church service she holds virtually completed for another Sunday morning, the anticipation of the evening to come building rapidly.The mother of new Raptors centre Khem Birch can barely contain herself after a weekend of waiting.“It was the longest 48 hours of my life,” she said of waiting for Birch, formerly of the Orlando Magic, to clear waivers and join the Raptors. “It was torture. I couldn’t tell anybody.”Now she can tell the world. Literally.Aside from raising just the sixth Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, Sparks has a vehicle with which to get the news out, to tell her story and that of her son; an avenue to introduce basketball fans to what she calls “the backbone” of so many players.Their mothers.Sparks hosts a podcast, Court-side Moms, that brings the stories of NBA mothers — stories of sacrifice and support and perseverance — to each other and the greater public.“I want the mothers to have a platform so that the public can understand the truth as to what it is to become a professional athlete,” she said. “I want it to become a resource for parents out there who have amateur athletes, or just have little kids, and they’re like ‘What can my kid be?’ or ‘What could I help them become?’“To me, it was very important to put a story out there.”The pod, which began last year, serves as a guide to the perils and the joys of raising basketball professionals.“These are testimonies; they’re not just stories,” Sparks said. “They’re true. This is not a mother whose child is going to be in the NBA or play professional basketball. This is a mother whose child is playing professional basketball, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to tell how they got there.”Birch’s journey is long and jagged, right out of the Raptors playbook: sort of “Bet On Yourself” and “Understand The Grind” combined with a touch of creating an NBA career out of hard work, and the willingness to seek employment and improvement far and wide.The 28-year-old spent the first 11 years of his life in Montreal, then moved to Ottawa for three years to live with his father and stepmother (“I really wanted Khem to spend one-on-one time with his father … To this day, we’re all a big family. It’s all about love,” Sparks said) before really turning into a basketball nomad.Two prep schools in Massachusetts, a year at the University of Pittsburgh, two more at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Sparks learned about parenting from afar.“It’s raising a child through a lot of conversations, phone calls,” she said. “There was no FaceTime then, there was no video chat. I would never see him visually. It was always by phone. As a mother, I said I have to do this for him, because I recognize talent and if it’s worth exploring, then why not? Just see what he can get.“I’m raising him by the phone: Did you make your bed, did you eat, did you do this, this, this? I’m not standing there in his doorway.”Birch spent the first three years of his career in the then-D League, Turkey and Greece — more long-distance child rearing, more stories that needed to be shared.That’s when the idea of hitting the airwaves arrived.“It was, ‘Wait a second, hold on. Let’s talk about how players get to where they are and who helps them,’” she said, “because people just see the player on the court. They don’t know how they got there. They have no idea what it takes to become a professional athlete. Then you have the internet trolls that just assume they understand it from top to bottom and they have no idea.“I just said to myself: I want to start a podcast.”With her son joining a new team, there are new relationships for Sparks to build, more stories to learn and share. It won’t be totally unfamiliar, and Sparks was welcomed to the Toronto group in conversations with Kyle Lowry’s mom, Marie Holloway, on the weekend.“She reached out to me yesterday and said welcome to the family,” Sparks said of Holloway. “I thought that was so sweet that she reached out to me. I already know Fred VanVleet’s mom (Susan) and DeAndre’ Bembry’s mom (Essence) so there’s some familiarity there.”And stories to tell. And lessons to share.“When I speak to the moms, I say we are different yet we are the same. And through my show it’s created such a sisterhood among the mothers because now, with us, we look out for our children,” she said.Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps

‘It’s created such a sisterhood.’ New Raptor Khem Birch’s mom has a podcast for NBA mothers, and so many stories to tell

The elation in the voice of Wendy Sparks is palpable about eight hours before her son was to fulfil one of his life’s dreams.

She’s on the phone from her Montreal home: the church service she holds virtually completed for another Sunday morning, the anticipation of the evening to come building rapidly.

The mother of new Raptors centre Khem Birch can barely contain herself after a weekend of waiting.

“It was the longest 48 hours of my life,” she said of waiting for Birch, formerly of the Orlando Magic, to clear waivers and join the Raptors. “It was torture. I couldn’t tell anybody.”

Now she can tell the world. Literally.

Aside from raising just the sixth Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, Sparks has a vehicle with which to get the news out, to tell her story and that of her son; an avenue to introduce basketball fans to what she calls “the backbone” of so many players.

Their mothers.

Sparks hosts a podcast, Court-side Moms, that brings the stories of NBA mothers — stories of sacrifice and support and perseverance — to each other and the greater public.

“I want the mothers to have a platform so that the public can understand the truth as to what it is to become a professional athlete,” she said. “I want it to become a resource for parents out there who have amateur athletes, or just have little kids, and they’re like ‘What can my kid be?’ or ‘What could I help them become?’

“To me, it was very important to put a story out there.”

The pod, which began last year, serves as a guide to the perils and the joys of raising basketball professionals.

“These are testimonies; they’re not just stories,” Sparks said. “They’re true. This is not a mother whose child is going to be in the NBA or play professional basketball. This is a mother whose child is playing professional basketball, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to tell how they got there.”

Birch’s journey is long and jagged, right out of the Raptors playbook: sort of “Bet On Yourself” and “Understand The Grind” combined with a touch of creating an NBA career out of hard work, and the willingness to seek employment and improvement far and wide.

The 28-year-old spent the first 11 years of his life in Montreal, then moved to Ottawa for three years to live with his father and stepmother (“I really wanted Khem to spend one-on-one time with his father … To this day, we’re all a big family. It’s all about love,” Sparks said) before really turning into a basketball nomad.

Two prep schools in Massachusetts, a year at the University of Pittsburgh, two more at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Sparks learned about parenting from afar.

“It’s raising a child through a lot of conversations, phone calls,” she said. “There was no FaceTime then, there was no video chat. I would never see him visually. It was always by phone. As a mother, I said I have to do this for him, because I recognize talent and if it’s worth exploring, then why not? Just see what he can get.

“I’m raising him by the phone: Did you make your bed, did you eat, did you do this, this, this? I’m not standing there in his doorway.”

Birch spent the first three years of his career in the then-D League, Turkey and Greece — more long-distance child rearing, more stories that needed to be shared.

That’s when the idea of hitting the airwaves arrived.

“It was, ‘Wait a second, hold on. Let’s talk about how players get to where they are and who helps them,’” she said, “because people just see the player on the court. They don’t know how they got there. They have no idea what it takes to become a professional athlete. Then you have the internet trolls that just assume they understand it from top to bottom and they have no idea.

“I just said to myself: I want to start a podcast.”

With her son joining a new team, there are new relationships for Sparks to build, more stories to learn and share. It won’t be totally unfamiliar, and Sparks was welcomed to the Toronto group in conversations with Kyle Lowry’s mom, Marie Holloway, on the weekend.

“She reached out to me yesterday and said welcome to the family,” Sparks said of Holloway. “I thought that was so sweet that she reached out to me. I already know Fred VanVleet’s mom (Susan) and DeAndre’ Bembry’s mom (Essence) so there’s some familiarity there.”

And stories to tell. And lessons to share.

“When I speak to the moms, I say we are different yet we are the same. And through my show it’s created such a sisterhood among the mothers because now, with us, we look out for our children,” she said.

Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps

Source : Toronto Star More