Today I honor and pay tribute to my dear and beloved friend Karen Taylor.
The last time I delivered any type of eulogy/memoriam, it was my own mother’s – over 4 years ago. A funeral Karen attended to offer me support and comfort which I highly appreciated.
Part of the reason I felt connected to Karen from the day I first met her over 6 years ago is that she reminded me so much of my own mother: Tough, strong, determined, stubborn at times, outspoken, had an incredible southern sense of humor, demanding but extremely committed to maximizing the human potential of her kids. Karen like my mom, and countless other hardworking moms in this country, clearly understood that you can’t make lemonade if that lemon isn’t squeezed.
The expectation of excellence, valuing the role of education and being a stout believer in God were her core principles. And despite not being blessed with great material wealth, “Big Momma” or “Coach Kay” as she was both affectionately known as, used those principles to be a great parent. Karen’s own athletic accomplishments and induction into the Jackson State Athletics Hall of Fame are well known as are the basketball achievements of her son Stanley Johnson. But one thing needs to be proclaimed and repeated: this great woman from Moss Point, Mississipi produced, raised, nurtured and coached the greatest winner in California High School Basketball History – her son Stanley.
But Karen was so much more than just Stanley’s mom. She coached, counseled and mentored so many kids in her SoCal Tigers youth program and loved those kids as if they were her own. I remember once when NBA All-Star Weekend came to Los Angeles, her scrapping together gas money to drive several of those kids to the Staples Center in order for the kids to experience the NBA Expo open to the public. Karen was always quick to offer any kid that she came in contact with her great knowledge of the game.
Karen also had many friends from her SoCal Tiger days, her days cheering on Stanley at Mater Dei and Arizona and from her days being a terrific employee working my door at most of my events during the past 5 years. I often used Karen as a guest speaker providing advice to parents of young up and coming players. At one such middle school camp, Karen was on a speakers panel with Alex Austin (father of Isaiah Austin) and Brian Merritt (then working for John Lucas and now an assistant for Bobby Hurley at Arizona State). One of the many topics she talked about was her nutrition of her own son which consisted of several home-cooked Southern delicacies, most notably Collard Greens and Corn Bread.
When she was done talking, I opened the forum up for questions and the 1st one was a question directed at Karen from a dad who wanted to know what her famous Cornbread recipe was. Her response was simply a huge smile which drew a great response from the parents there.
Karen was anything but a Private person. Under that tough skin, she was an out-going, caring, sensitive, friendly, community and team-oriented mother that loved her friends and basketball community dearly.
After hearing the initial news recently that Karen had been hospitalized and was in extreme danger, I was in Las Vegas for the last NCAA July recruiting live period. I immediately got sick to my stomach. I know how much energy and effort she spent just to make it to New York in June to see her Stanley have his name called by Adam Silver. I regret not making it to New York to celebrate that moment with her (I had a bad back injury at the time and it was difficult for me to travel).
But watching the NBA Draft on TV, it was apparent how happy and satisfied she was knowing that all those years of hard work, teaching her son to play and respect the game had culminated in that moment. Her job was in essence done. She had now passed the family baton to her beloved Stanley. It was now his turn to finish the race she started.
Karen: we are going to miss your infectious smile and humor. You were one of a kindand a true icon of our Southern California basketball community. We may have lost you physically, but we will never forget how much you have touched our lives.
How incredibly fitting is it that you entered this world on the 1st day of May and returned to God on the 1st day of August. That’s a true mark of the champion you will forever be.
I pray God has given you a final resting place free of pain and full of the divine love you deserve and have earned.
God bless you and your family and may your memory be eternal.