Lyricist Carl Sigman's 1950s classic line, "Many a tear has to fall, but it's all in the game," could have been Jamie Lawson and Leo Rautins's theme song until the two met and their romance became a slam dunk.
A basketball phenomenon at St. Michael's College in Toronto, Mr. Rautins was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame and played 10 years for Canada's national team. He starred with the Syracuse University Orangemen and was a first-round draft choice of the Philadelphia 76ers, for whom he played in 1983-84. Then, after a brief stint with the Atlanta Hawks, his professional play was in Europe until 1992. A career switch to broadcasting led to his role as a TV analyst for the Toronto Raptors since their 1995 inception.
Meanwhile, Jamie Lawson, a native Texan raised in Memphis, was growing up the antithesis of a demure southern belle. "I was very feminine and a pretty little girl, but into sports and competitive," she says. "I was upset I was born a girl and really wanted to be a quarterback."
As a child, she parked in front of her black-and-white TV, captivated by any and every sport, and soon became a trivia buff. At university, her associate degree in biology had her dreaming of sports medicine, but a successful dalliance in modelling led her to recruitment management.
When a mutual friend introduced the pair at Ms. Lawson's alma mater, the University of North Carolina, at a 2001 charity basketball game, their encounter was definitely a three pointer. "We hit it off and went for dinner," she says, and it was she who took Mr. Rautins's number. Her 2 a.m. call to his hotel later that evening had them chatting for four hours. "We started talking about basketball, and I think I won him over at that point because I knew more about college basketball than he did, because the NBA schedule took so much of his time," she laughs.
Ms. Lawson was emerging from a disastrous relationship when they met, and Mr. Rautins was grappling with a divorce. "Neither one of us was remotely interested in having a relationship," he says, "but there was something there, and we became good friends." Three weeks later, the tug of attraction, reinforced by a flurry of phone calls, had a glowing Ms. Lawson jetting to Toronto.
"Leo was there for me through a very tough time, and I was there for him," she says. "It didn't take long to realize that we were soul mates and meant for each other."
Mr. Rautins's celeb status has deflected the spotlight from the fetching Ms. Lawson. "I've never been with a man who, when we enter a room, gets more attention than I do," she chuckles. "It's amusing and a relief. People come up, say hi and turn completely from me."
Scarcely a year after they met, Ms. Lawson was confident enough in the tenure of their relationship to purchase a Toronto condo as her base and the couple's time alternated between their residences here and in Syracuse, where Mr. Rautins's children live.
"There are no secrets. She knows absolutely everything about me and vice versa. Those small white lies to avoid problems are not part of our relationship," Mr. Rautins, 45, says. His children, 20-year-old Michael, Andrew, 16, Jay 14, and five-year-old Sammy welcomed Ms. Lawson as part of their team. "They have extended themselves to me and opened their hearts," says Ms. Lawson, cognizant that she was "marrying the family."
The couple's journey toward marriage was influenced by the mystique of black swans they saw together on a visit to a jungle zoo in Elmvale, Ont., near Barrie. The swans, which mate for life in secure family units, embody the commitment that touched a chord for the pair and provided their wedding theme. The date for their nuptials, Feb. 19, was scheduled during the NBA all-star break to accommodate Mr. Rautins's telecast schedule.
The bridesmaids in black and the best men -- all the bridegroom's sons -- waited at The Westin Harbour Castle hotel as the couple approached together on an aisle runner decorated with black swans. The 5-foot, 7-inch bride, in a bias-cut black silk gown backed by a subtle train, and her 6-foot, 8-inch bridegroom, in a black tuxedo and black silk T-shirt, exchanged personal vows in front of Rev. Bob Holmes before an intimate gathering of 60 guests. At the cocktail reception following, confections by 12 Ohh!cakesions of two black swans and two basketballs bearing the University of North Carolina and the University of Syracuse logos, respectively, continued their theme.
Mrs. Lawson Rautins, 33, has embraced her new vocation as homemaker to her husband, the boys, and one-year-old Kujo, their boxer puppy. Mr. Rautins has been named head coach of the senior men's Canadian national basketball team, which will begin competition this summer. If the Canadian team has the resolution of Team Rautins, possibilities abound.
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