Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni and wife Laurel at home in Memorial
When the Houston Rockets clinched their NBA playoff spot on Tuesday night, the happiest camper in Toyota Center might have sitting behind the player’s bench. It was coach Mike D’Antoni‘s wife, Laurel, who was celebrating the early triumph and plotting the launch of her literacy endeavor that would coincide with one of the team’s first playoff games.
Part cheerleader (she was one in high school), part den mother to the wives and girlfriends of the Rockets players, and part community activist, Laurel D’Antoni is a go-getter who has been cutting a friendly swath through Houston since arriving in August. Mike signed his contract with the Rockets last June but it wasn’t until their Memorial area swankienda was ready that she took up residence and began her role as very active head coach’s wife.
In a one-on-one conversation in their stunning Mediterranean-style home, Laurel explains her interest in literacy and education. She is an avid reader of non-fiction, particularly in brain function and education spheres. On the other hand, Mike, also big on books, is a fan of detective novels, think James Lee Burke and Lee Child. Reading is his decompression tool, she says.
Both of their families were involved in education. It is no surprise then that she is “passionate” about literacy and has made that her community focus in the cities where Mike has coached.
She already has her finger on literacy in Houston, having hooked up with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and its director Julie Baker Finck. Laurel easily runs through the troubling numbers on the literacy problem in Houston. One in every five Houstonians is illiterate, one of every four Houston third graders reads below level, four out of five public school children live in poverty. . .
At 5-foot-10, the former Ford model, who worked internationally and met Mike while modeling in Italy, is a striking advocate for literacy. So with a slot in the playoffs officially confirmed as expected, Laurel is off and running with her project.
“The timing is perfect,” she says, to introduce the literacy effort of the Rockets Women’s Organization, which she leads as the head coach’s wife.
In advance of the yet-to-be-designated home game, there will be a call for ticket holders to take new or gently-used children’s books to Toyota Center in exchange for raffle tickets — one book one ticket, 50 books 50 raffle tickets. Six winners will be drawn that night for packages that include meeting up with one of the team’s top six players — James Harden, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, and Eric Gordon — at game’s end, getting a photo with one of those Rockets, an autographed jersey and more.
For the book drive, the Houston Rockets Women’s Organization is teaming up with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Reliant. While the initial plan was to garner 10,000 books, Laurel is upping her goal to 11,000, having learned that the foundation’s drive brought in 10,000. “We’re very competitive,” she laughs.
“We have fabulous Rockets women,” Laurel adds. “Our women are kind and sensitive and giving. They want to be active participants in the community.”
Sports fans seldom think about the women behind the big guys on the court, unless its a Kardashian or Ciara. “I try to tell our basketball players’ girlfriend or wife, ‘If you can come to this organization, it’s going to be great and it’s going to be bad because people are going to be all over your boyfriend or husband.’ Social media is very tough. It’s harsh,” Laurel D’Antoni says.
Thus, the importance of the women’s organizations, which she says are in place throughout professional sports. “You need to bond. You need to help each other out because you move around so much. It’s a really volatile career,” she adds. “Usually, when you get fired from a team, it’s horrific. And the first time it is and all the rest of the times, it just comes with the territory.”
The D’Antonis have moved at least 15 times in his basketball career that began professionally in Italy. Their terra firma anchor is a vacation home at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. “The Texans will be holding preseason there this year. I guess I’d better learn something about football. The Texans are football right?” she jests with a hearty laugh. “Houston is such a football town.”
Except, of course, when it has a winning basketball team.