Wesley Matthews: A Proud Mama's Boy
It's there for all to see. On the left bicep of Wesley Matthews is a tattoo in cursive that reads "Dynamic Duo,'' and, adorned with a basketball, has the initials "WM'' and "PM."
The tattoo refers to Matthews and the single mother, Pam Moore, who raised him in Madison, Wis.
"He got it when he was 18,'' Moore said. "I wouldn't let him get a tattoo until he was of legal age. He had little skinny arms then so it wasn't a very big tattoo.''
Matthews, 23, has grown up plenty since then. As an undrafted rookie out of Marquette, he's surprisingly become the starting shooting guard this season for the Utah Jazz.
But Matthews' admiration for his mother hasn't waned in the least. In fact, if a general assumption is made about from whom Matthews learned the game of basketball, there is a quick correction.
Many might think Matthews' skills were honed by his father, Wes Matthews, a quick 6-foot-1 point guard who played in the NBA from 1980-88 and 1989-90, winning two titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. But that's not so.
"That was my mom,'' the 6-5 Matthews, averaging 8.6 points, said of who taught him the game. "People just assume it was my father. It wasn't. I'm quick to let to it be known it was my mother. I'm not saying anything bad about my father. I'm just being 100 percent real. I need to give credit where credit is due.''
Moore, you see, was a darn good player in her own right. She once had 50 points and 50 rebounds in a game at Madison Memorial High School, although her son claims he needs some evidence before believing that. Moore says she soon plans to scour for a newspaper article on the memorable night.
It's much easier to look up Moore's records at the University of Wisconsin. She was the team's leading scorer and rebounder as a freshman in 1977-78 before devoting herself entirely to track.
That decision worked out well. Moore was an All-American 400-meter runner for the Badgers, still holding some school records, and was inducted into Wisconsin's Hall of Fame in 2006.
It was during her time at Wisconsin that Moore met Wes Matthews, then the star for the Badgers' basketball team. Although the two never married, they remained together throughout most of Matthews Sr.'s NBA career. Wesley was born Oct. 14, 1986.
But the couple had broken up by 1989, after Matthews Sr. won rings with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988, giving one to baby Wesley, and had gone to Italy to play. For much of the 1990s, when the son was coming of age, his father didn't see him much.
"I don't have to get the credit,'' said Matthews Sr., when asked about his son pointing to his mother for teaching him the game. "But I'm the father and he is my son. Unfortunately, me and his mother did not see eye to eye. ... But he has no problem with his father even if he might feel that the relationship at a young age did not work.''
Matthews Sr., who had NBA career averages of 7.9 points and 4.2 assists, says he wasn't around as much as he would have liked for his son due to playing all over the globe from 1988-97, with the exception of a one-game stint with Atlanta in 1989-90 that concluded his NBA career. In addition to Italy, he spent time in Spain, Portugal, Brazil and the Philippines.
After Wesley Matthews began to star at Madison Memorial and Marquette, his father began to show up more frequently, And Matthews Sr., who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Jonesboro, Ga. doing basketball workouts, has attended five Jazz games this season.
"It's growing,'' said the son, speaking guardedly about his relationship with his father. "That's about all I can say about it.''
As for the relationship with his mother, it always has flourished. When Wesley was growing up, other kids called him a "mama's boy,'' but he said that didn't bother him.
It will be an especially proud moment for Matthews when he plays his first NBA game Friday night at Milwaukee at the Bradley Center, where he starred in college. His mother and at least 60 other supporters will make the one-hour drive from Madison.
It's no surprise Moore, who has attended 10 Jazz games this season while never having missed one on television, will be putting more miles on her car for her only child. Moore, an insurance underwriter in Madison, spent her son's childhood regularly driving him to events for basketball and soccer, another sport in which Wesley excelled.
Moore provided plenty of basketball tips along the way. She doesn't deny this isn't your typical father-son NBA story.
"Everybody seems to just think that,'' Moore said of the assumption her son's skills were honed by his father. "Then he'll make a comment that it was his mother, and lot of people are shocked. But, at the same time, there are lot of kids growing up in single-parent homes being raised by their mothers.''
The difference, of course, is most don't have fathers who played in the NBA and then go on to the NBA themselves.
"My mom grew up around the game,'' Matthews said. "She knows about basketball. ... The biggest lesson my mom taught me is that there are so many other ways you can affect a basketball game than just scoring. Not everybody can score 50 points in a game.''
The son does find it funny, though, he has become so unselfish considering "both my parents were gunners.'' That's a contention not denied by Moore, who, at 5-9, played forward and center.
"I was pretty good, but I was a bit of a ball hog,'' she said.
Still, Moore stressed for her son to be unselfish. Sometimes, though, she had to prod him to be more aggressive.
"He was never like his father and me,'' Moore said. "We were both 'shoot first and ask questions later.' ... I actually had to get Wesley to be more selfish and shoot the ball at times. ... I told him that when you're more aggressive offensively, that's going to bring defenders out to you, and you can kick the ball out to your teammates. And when you're being aggressive and getting to the foul line, that's helping your team out because you're putting the other team in the bonus situation.''
The son learned his lessons well. After starring at Madison Memorial, he was a four-year starter at Marquette, averaging 18.6 points as a senior.
But the draft last June came and went, and Matthews never heard his name called.
"I've felt overlooked my whole career,'' he said of the snub. "That's just the business. I knew I had to just work hard and go out and try to prove people wrong.''
Utah director of player personnel Walt Perrin said the Jazz considered taking Matthews with the team's No. 50 pick in the second round before deciding instead to go with Goran Suton, a big man out of Michigan State who would be waived in training camp. But Perrin liked what he saw from Matthews when scouting him at Marquette, and he said Utah coaches had been impressed in a pre-draft workout.
"The second round is an unknown because nobody knows what teams are going to do,'' Perrin said of Matthews not being selected. "You've got European players taken. And a lot of teams would rather take big guys in the second round than wings. But we liked him, and right after the draft we got on the phone to try to bring him in for summer league.''
Matthews did play in summer leagues for the Jazz in Orlando, Fla., and for Sacramento in Las Vegas. Guess who was courtside in Las Vegas?
"I went out to the summer league because I wanted to see for myself how he measured up,'' Moore said. "I had to witness it myself rather than hearing from others. I am the best one to judge Wesley.''
Moore served as everything but her son's agent during the process of choosing a team for training camp. The "Dynamic Duo,'' a nickname that really caught on after it was the headline in a January 2004 newspaper article about the two in The Capital Times, eventually decided Utah was the best option.
It was good choice since the Jazz has a coach in Jerry Sloan who really appreciates Matthews' unselfishness, defense and versatility. But it took some luck for Matthews to even make the team.
The Jazz had injuries in training camp and early in the season to perimeter players C.J. Miles and Kyle Korver. That led to Matthews getting his first career start Nov. 13, when he scored 16 points against Philadelphia.
"He does what the coach wants him to do,'' said Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. "He's got a very solid game, and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes.''
Matthews started 19 straight games before Sloan eventually decided to slide Ronnie Brewer from small forward to shooting guard and insert Kirilenko back as the starting small forward. But on Feb. 18, with clearing time for Matthews one reason for the deal, the Jazz shipped Brewer to Memphis.
Matthews returned to the starting lineup Feb. 19 at Golden State. He's started 11 straight since then, and it doesn't look as if he'll be returning to the bench any time soon.
"It's very rare,'' Perrin said when asked about an undrafted NBA rookie becoming a regular NBA starter. "I can't think of another one off the top of my head.''
If Matthews, who has played in all of Utah's 64 games while starting 30, gets 11 more, he'll become the first undrafted rookie straight from college to start at least half his team's games in a season since 2002-03, when Seattle's Reggie Evans got 60 starts and Denver's Junior Harrington had 51.
"I'm enjoying it,'' said Matthews, whose Jazz are 21-9 when he starts, said of his rookie season. "I'm testing myself against the best players. I've been blessed to be in this situation.''
The feeling is mutual.
"I can't tell a lie,'' Moore said when asked if she felt her son ever would be in this position after being undrafted last June. "Never could have I have dreamed he would be starting for a team that has the fourth-best record in the West. It's just a dream come true. ... But I believe he's going to continue to have success and get better.''
He isn't the first Matthews to get off to a hot start in the NBA. Matthews Sr., taken by Washington with the No. 14 pick in the first round in 1980, averaged 12.4 points and 5.2 assists while splitting his rookie season between the Bullets and Atlanta.
For most of his career, though, Matthews Sr. was a backup. In fact, the most games he ever started in a season was 46, a figure the son would eclipse if he starts 17 of Utah's final 18 games.
"A lot of teams who didn't draft him dropped the ball,'' said the father. "He's just at the tip of the iceberg at how good he can be. ... He can do more than me because he's bigger than me, and I was limited by my height. He can play (point guard, shooting guard and small forward). We were both about the same as far as being good defenders. I'd have to give him the nod as far as being a better shooter because I drove more. The only thing I would like to see him work on is his handles.''
Meanwhile, the two continue to work on their relationship. Matthews Sr. said the two talk regularly on the phone and text each other.
"A lot of people's lives get separated,'' the dad said about his time away from his son years ago. "But he knows that this isn't about his dad jumping on the bandwagon. It's nothing like that.''
Nevertheless, if you want to call Wesley Matthews a "mama's boy,'' it won't bother him in the least. He might even show you his tattoo.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson