When Golden State’s JaVale McGee returned to the locker room after the first game of the NBA Finals he probably returned to a phone full of messages from one long-running text chain he has with two of the most basketball-savvy people in his life: His mom, Pam McGee – a former WNBA player — and his sister, Imani Boyette, who is in her second year with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.
“My mom and (JaVale’s) assistant and (JaVale), we’re all in a group message so we’ll be talking in the group message and he’ll see what we were saying the entire time and he’ll get back on and be like, ‘Thanks guys,’ ” Boyette said after her team took on the Mystics last week. “And that’s how we watch everyone’s games.”
Boyette has a rare insight into her brother’s career, which has taken a recent upswing this season after he bounced around between four teams in three years. After playing in 62 games over the past four season, he played in 77 games for the Warriors during the regular season, averaging 9.1 minutes. On Thursday night, he had four points and grabbed five rebounds in six minutes on the floor. Boyette says it’s easy to explain the success: He’s not expected to play outside himself and he just has to do the things he excels at: running the floor, defending and dunking when needed, like he did for a few crowd-pleasing buckets in Thursday’s decisive win.
“He’s just really happy and it’s great when he works really hard and he’s always been in situations that weren’t best for him or he had the Shaqtin-a-Fool reputation and hasn’t been able to get from under that shadow,” she said. “So now he’s been able to get to a situation that’s great where the coaches and organization believes in him and really thrive.”
Her brother also has a special insight into her game – because, as she points out, they’re virtually the same. They’re both tall and lanky, rely on post moves and even suffered the same shin injury three weeks apart. They both make the same “tired stance” – crossed legs and hands on their hips. And, like many siblings, they make the same faces.
“I’m his mini-me,” she joked.
In addition to the text message conversations, the two talk a few times a week and Boyette often FaceTimes McGee or his girlfriend to see their new baby – her niece. Her husband, Paul Boyette, signed a contract with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent last month and now spends a lot of time with his brother-in-law.
“He was the biggest JaVale McGee fan before he met me so (when I introduced them), he was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s my favorite player,’ ” Boyette said.
Knowing her husband has a familiar face out in Oakland is also a comfort for Boyette. Because she and Paul are both professional athletes, they only get to see each other once a month — though they’re constantly in communication, she said.
The two met at a party in college and had their first date at Wendy’s the next day. They were married in July of 2015.
“It’s just a little harder now because he has an actual job so I can’t make him drop everything and come visit me so it sucks but it’s part of the grind,” she said. “Eventually we’ll be able to figure it out and be more stable and together.”
As for getting her brother’s seal-of-approval? She said she saw it when the two interacted – McGee, she said, doesn’t open up to people easily.
“He met every boyfriend I’ve ever had at a basketball game, so when I brought Paul to a game he was like, ‘I’m not meeting any more of your boyfriends.’ He’s just like, ‘I’m done,’ ” she said. “ ‘Stop bringing them to the game.’ But luckily it worked out.”
McGee and Boyette spent most of Boyette’s childhood in separate houses after their mother’s divorce. She said the two saw each other once or twice a year with the help of an aunt who made sure they had some quality time together.
Once JaVale was drafted, they were able to see each other more and he spent a large part of the NBA lockout working out with Boyette – who at the time was still in high school.
“He’d pick me up from school and stuff and I got to go play pickup with him and stuff, but he never dunked on me,” she said proudly.
She went on to play four years at Texas and was drafted 10th overall by Chicago in 2016. But they haven’t played one-on-one again.
Is it because JaVale’s scared?
“Make sure you print that,” she said.