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Laurel D’Antoni is passionate about helping Houston’s kids

Houston Rockets

Laurel D’Antoni is passionate about helping Houston’s kids

Laurel D’Antoni, wife of Mike D’Antoni, wants to tackle Houston’s literacy problem.

Houston Rockets Women's Book Drive - Laurel D'Antoni

The Houston Rockets Women’s Organization and Reliant have teamed up to host a book drive for Game 2 of the Rockets first round series with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Fans can bring in new or gently used books and for each book donated, they get a raffle ticket for a chance to win one of six player prize packages that will be given away during the game.

I had a chance to interview Laurel D’Antoni, the wife of Mike D’Antoni, and it was a great experience. She’s passionate about the fans and helping the literacy problem here in Houston. Here’s what she had to say about the book drive, the Rockets and being married to an offensive genius.

It’s great to meet you.

You too. By the way, I like your website. Did you do it?

Yes, I started it a little over 20 years ago…

Did you hack your girlfriend’s site?

Wow, you’ve done your research.

I thought it was pretty cool. Are you still with that girlfriend?

She’s my wife now.

OK, so she forgave you.

I hope so by now.

But it’s cool. I think our fans are our greatest attribute. They’re very generous. We did a season ticket event and said ‘hey you guys, bring books because we’re collecting them’, and people actually bought us books. That tells you a lot about Houston people, right?

No doubt. And this is your first year in Houston. What has your experience been like in the city and with the Rockets organization?

I’ve been in the league a long time. I’ve been with Mike for 30 years. Most professional sports teams have a women’s organization. They understand it’s a platform to go out into the community and do something. The fact that we move around a lot means we need to jump into the community pretty fast. We have an incredible Community Relations department here under Sarah Joseph. She can only send the players out so much time so she can use the women to go out and do things in the community. That’s kind of where it came from. Specifically, with the book drive, I did it three years. We created it in Phoenix. The first year, we got 6,000 books. The second year, 8,000. The third year, 10,000.

I proposed it to our women here and they all said yes. Then the Rockets came back and said, hey, we want to partner you with Reliant. Reliant, one of their most prestigious marketing partners, felt it was a perfect marriage. Then we found a community partner with the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation, who has already vetted the non-profits and already done massive research on the literacy problems here. They’re published. They know how to reach these kids. It was made for us, a perfect opportunity. I’m excited about it.

I’m passionate about it. All my family are educators. All of Mike’s family are educators. The reality is in Houston, we know that one of out of five Houstonians are functionally illiterate. Now part of that is because we have a very big immigrant population but there are a lot of other reasons. When you look at third grade students, one in four aren’t meeting the standards here.

So we know that we have a problem. But if you have middle and upper income families that have on average 13 age-related books in their household and then you go look at the lower income families and they have one book for every 300 kids — there’s a problem. The problem is those Moms are trying to feed their kids and they can’t go buy a book. That’s where we step in because we’ve got the most awesome fans in the NBA. They’re compassionate. Everybody has books in their closet. We are looking for new or gently used books. We’ve got seventh graders that are reading adult books. So you can do this. This is something that is very easy to do.

So fans can bring them in to Toyota Center on the second game of the playoffs?

Yes. We are going to do this for the second game of the first round of the playoffs (on Wednesday). We have partners from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Reliant and our Rockets Women’s Organization are going to be outside all of the entrances of the arena for Game 2. We are going to collect all the books. For every book you give us, I’m going to give you one raffle ticket. So if you bring me 50 books, you’re going to get 50 tickets. For every ticket you get, you will have an opportunity to win an incredible player package. What we’ve done is we’ve got Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, James Harden and Trevor Ariza and for those six packages, we’re going to give you their autographed jersey and an incredible MVP player package. And then we’re going to grab you at the end of the game when those players come off the floor, you’re going to meet them and he’s going to give you the jersey.

That’s awesome.

All their girlfriends asked the guys to participate and the guys said, ‘yeah, we’re in’. I hope we win because it will make it a little bit less nerve-wracking, but they’re going to get the chance to meet the player and get their jersey at the game.

What kind of books are you looking for?

We’re looking for children’s books but keep in mind that we’ve got older kids reading at an adult level. Not to worry. The very next day, the Bush Foundation is going to bring in over 30 non-profits and they are going to select those books that are appropriate for their constituents. Whatever books are left over, we’re going to donate to the Houston Library and it will be one of their fundraisers, so it’s a win-win for everybody.

I got to ask you about the Rockets. I think when Mike was first hired here, fans were a little bit, maybe, shocked thinking —

What is wrong with those fans?

I think we all have egg on our face at this point.

But that’s OK. It makes me feel good.

But here he is now getting all this play for Coach of the Year and, obviously you’re going to be biased but —

I am biased, yes.

Do you think he deserves that award this year?

Absolutely. I think that… he’s an exciting coach. He gives maximum confidence to his players. He likes his players. His players are like his kids. We have a 23-year old so they’re kind of the same age group. He likes them. He doesn’t try to change anybody to be what they’re not. What he asks of all of his players is to adapt a little bit because it’s never one player that we all have to adapt to him. It’s a team sport. And for us to win big, we have to have complete team commitment. Everybody does that by adjusting and adapting and learning.

I have to tell you, what James Harden has done and decided to take on a completely different role as a playmaker. You look at his assists. It’s incredible what he’s done. He’s done it willingly and openly. It’s amazing. That’s a real credit to him and a credit to my husband that they like each other. It’s good.

You were there with the Suns when Steve Nash was MVP twice. Does watching Harden and the Rockets remind you of that?

Yes. Where it’s similar — in Phoenix, the owner of the team, the Colangelos, our general manager at the time was Bryan Colangelo, the families, we were very tight, we were all on the same page and there were no nooses around. That’s the way we are here. These are special opportunities. I think anybody will tell you, in a work environment, if you are from the top down all on the same page, you’re going to be extremely productive. We all know that if there is one guy in the organization that is a kink, we know our productivity is going to go down. There is a lot of research on that about the one jerk will lower the expectations and productivity. That’s where it’s similar. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody wants to win and they’re all willing to adjust to a singular vision on how we’re going to do that. That’s why we’re successful. Our guys are committed. Our coaches are committed. Our staff is committed and all the way through to our ushers to our video coordinators to Tad (Brown) and to our owner Leslie Alexander. Completely committed.

I wish you the best of luck with this. I hope you have a great turnout.

I appreciate it. The biggest thing for us — I see the fans. They’re a little bit slow getting here, but you know what, we were in LA and New York and it was like that as well. I hope that they’re enjoying the product we’re putting out there because I know my pillow talk is about my husband, if the fans are having fun and how was the game. The first question he asks me about the game is ‘Did I have fun?’ He loves the way his team plays and he’s doing it because he wants the fans to appreciate it and enjoy it so I hope that they are.

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