Kim Mulkey never missed a day of school from kindergarten through 12th grade. She was the valedictorian of her class. She has never had a drop of alcohol in her life — or coffee, for that matter.
“I played ball. I studied till the wee hours of the morning. I wanted teachers to say, ‘That Kim is a little old woman in a girl’s body,'” the head coach for LSU’s women’s basketball program said during our Baton Rouge Classic lunch. “I always try to do the right thing.”
Having grown up in Tangipahoa Parish, she’s happy to be back in Louisiana, closer to more of the people who knew her when she was a basketball-playing, straight-A-making kid — before she was arguably the most decorated figure in the history of women’s basketball.
As a refresher, Mulkey is a Pan-American gold medalist (1983), an Olympic gold medalist (1984), and the first person in NCAA women’s basketball history to win a national championship as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2020) and into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2021).
Close circle of friends
She keeps her small circle of friends, many she’s known since childhood, close.
“They are people from different walks of life — many much older than I am. They don’t give a flip about what I’ve accomplished,” she said.
There’s a lot more to Mulkey coming back home than basketball.
Take the étouffée at The Little Village, for example. She recently discovered the downtown restaurant — and loves its version of the hearty Cajun dish.
Of course, she loves the bread there, too (what’s not to love?). She says everything she’s eaten at The Little Village has been great. She loves it all (except the eggplant, being that she’s not a fan of eggplant in general — “It’s a texture thing.”). That still didn’t stop her from ordering the Wednesday lunch special, the Veal Eggplant Stack, for her Baton Rouge Classic lunch Oct. 5. (She ate around the eggplant.)
Happy to be home
Mulkey is happy to be back in a place that serves the food she grew up eating, surrounded by many of the people who made her who she is, including her mother, who ran a beauty shop out of their home in Tickfaw. She also enjoys doing quintessential Louisiana things like going to the Angola Rodeo, a trip she was planning for the weekend that followed our lunch.
She says coming back to Louisiana hasn’t required much of a transition.
“I go to work. I try to improve things — and I recruit,” she said. “LSU — those three letters are internationally known. I’m trying to get recruits to help us. Last year was a jump start. Recruiting is the lifeline of the program.”
Keeping it real
Mulkey pours her heart into recruiting, but she does not do social media. She has never been on a cruise. She either has to be driving or sitting in the front seat. She walks on her treadmill 30 to 45 minutes most days and then does some crunches. She is not a moviegoer, and if she watches a movie, “It’s real,” as she says.
“Not Harry Potter — I watch documentaries on the television, but somebody has to come set it up,” she said — meaning that someone else has to handle setting up a streaming service to play a particular show. “I’m not a dodo. I graduated with a 4.0 in college. I just don’t want all of that to clutter my brain.”
She does like to read, but again, she reads the “real stuff.” (She’s about to read the Katie Couric book.) She reads two newspapers every day — The Advocate and The Waco Tribune, home to Baylor University where she coached for 21 seasons.
Her two grandchildren are still in Waco, and she misses them something fierce. She FaceTimes with them daily — sometimes asking her daughter to just prop the phone up so she can watch her grandchildren play.
Mulkey likes to work in her yard but says that her fancy new house doesn’t matter so much to her. She hired someone to decorate it, and that was that.
“I don’t know a piece of china from a Walmart bowl,” she said.
Aunt Bee moves in
She cooks, but Miss Cheryl does most of the cooking in the Mulkey household. “Miss Cheryl” is Cheryl Gaude, another of Mulkey’s longtime friends.
“She and her husband Ralph both went to Hammond High years before I did,” Mulkey said. “She kept the books for the games. She saw every point I ever scored. She and Ralph would take me to my AAU games and camps when my parents, who both owned their own businesses, couldn’t.”
After Ralph Gaude passed away in 2005, Cheryl told Mulkey that she wanted to come to Waco to visit. Mulkey explained that the timing wasn’t great as her marriage was breaking up. Cheryl said she could handle it.
“She came in January 2006 and never left,” Mulkey said. “She needed me and I needed her. We call her the Aunt Bee of our house.”
Proud public school roots
Mulkey remembers her days at Hammond High fondly and is proud of her public-school Louisiana roots.
“Public schools made me who I am,” she said. “The greatest decision my parents ever made was to leave me in public schools (after integration). I can name you every teacher I ever had.”
We didn’t take the time for her to do that, but listening to her recall the specifics of a variety of people throughout our lunch, I believe she could. The woman has an incredible memory. She remembers minute details from decades earlier.
Knows the words by heart
She also remembers all the words to the songs she loves, especially clever lyrics and plays on words. Though she says she doesn’t believe she can carry a tune in a bucket, there’s one song she couldn’t stop singing all summer long — Walker Hayes’ “AA.” During lunch, in trying to help me recognize the song, she sang its chorus, “Tryna keep my daughter off poles and my sons out of jail. …Tryna keep my wife from figuring out that I married up and she married way, way down in Alabama where they love Nick Saban…”
Speaking of music, she curates musical playlists for her basketball practices. For example, on the day Loretta Lynn passed away, she played the country music queen’s classics. She loves country music, in general, with a strong preference for Charlie Pride.
The Dream Team
I mentioned to her that one day at the beginning of the fall semester, I went to exercise at LSU’s UREC and noticed a sign asking for guys who had played basketball in high school to try out to practice against the women’s team.
“Oh, you mean our Dream Team?” she said. “They come every day and practice with us. I get on them, too. They have their own uniforms and have to be cleared by the NCAA. If they’re not putting their hearts into it, I say, ‘Get him off the court.'”
Mulkey is big about putting one’s heart into it, on a variety of issues. Take her neighbor’s roof. When the couple at the table beside us got up to leave, the woman thanked Mulkey for coming back to Louisiana. The man then explained that his business partner is her neighbor. Mulkey knew exactly who he was referring to.
“Tell him he does not need to redo that roof of his. He just needs to use that Wet & Forget Roof Repair. I gave him two bottles of it,” Mulkey said. “Tell him to use that stuff and his roof will look just fine.”
The couple walked away, and I asked Mulkey what she would most like to be remembered for. She didn’t hesitate.
“That I was a good mother,” she said.
She wants to be sure her two children, Makenzie Fuller, 32, and Kramer Robertson, 28, know she never put her career in front of them. She said she even offered to give up coaching to save her marriage to their father, but that was not to be.
She says her divorce from Randy Robertson in 2006 was the biggest heartache and failure of her life.
“I have not been on a date since my divorce,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity, but my focus has been on those two children. I’m not lonely. I don’t need a man to support me. Relationships are work. I’m happy. I’m content.”
Keeping her secrets
Mulkey realizes that she may be misunderstood by some in the general public. She knows people have their opinions about her, but she is quite comfortable in who she is. She lives her life and goes out and about as she pleases. She’s focused on doing her job and says this year’s basketball team has a lot of talent.
“We’re not going to be good yet. It’s going to take some time,” she said about the team. They practice for four hours every afternoon. Some of them are still getting to know her.
She said her former players, the ones who already know her well, often tell her, “‘Coach, everybody thinks you’re a certain way, but they have no idea who you are or what you stand for.’ I tell them, ‘Shhhhhhh.'”