The Greatest Dad On Earth
ESPN The Magazine|October 1, 2018

The Lakers are poised to be an NBA high-wire act. So what better place to prep their new big man, JaVale McGee, and his baby girl than at circus school?

Sam Alipour

JaVale McGee is shouting about something or other—I can’t quite make out his words. That’s because I’m a zillion feet in the sky, praying and sweating and soon to be barfing, I’m sure, all over the trampoline below us. “If we time it so I land when you’re jumping,” McGee shouts, “you’ll go even higher!” This is a fact. It is also a horrible idea, confirmed when the Lakers center’s next bounce launches me into space like a jet-propelled doll.

It’s a Wednesday early in September, and we’re in a warehouse not far from the Lakers’ facility and about to get a lesson alongside the adorable and highly talented cast of Le Petite Cirque, a troupe of circus performers that Nathalie Yves Gaulthier—Le Petite Cirque’s owner, director and our coach today—calls a “Cirque du Soleil for child prodigies.”

Our fellow cast members, all ages 8 to 16, include a stilt walker, contortionist, foot archer and twin-sister trapeze artists. But the true star of today’s show is the cute as all get-out 22-month-old Genevieve Grey McGee—or Gigi, as her dad calls her—who arrives a bit grumpy, milk-drunk and groggy from a nap. But not to worry. Before long she is on fire, all giggles and smiles and curious big eyes, bouncing with Papa on the trampoline. Welcome to daddy duty, JaVale McGee–style.

ESPN: Why are we here playing around on circus equipment with Gigi?

McGEE: I want to foster her athleticism. She’s gonna be extremely tall, and already she’s very athletic. Also, I want to help her creativity and confidence. That’s why I have a habit, especially in public places, of letting her roam, doing whatever she wants as long as she’s not walking into a pit of fire. Steph Curry has two girls, and he taught me to instill confidence in her. That’s a big thing with little girls, he said. I really took that to heart.

What was the biggest surprise about fatherhood?

You don’t really think you’re a sensitive person until you have a girl. She fell a while back, hit her head on the ground and just started bawling. Then I started crying harder than her! I was like, “What is going on?!” Like, it just hurt me so bad that my daughter got hurt. It was a crazy feeling.

What’s the worst thing about being a dad?

The baby’s first six months, when all they do is sleep, poop, eat, sleep, poop, eat. You’re just like, “Why are you so boring?” But when they start crawling and smiling and laughing, you’re like,

“OK, woo!”

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