'Being away from each other was kind of a blessing'
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Chris Whitney wasn't prepared to be a dad when he found out Charlotta Glass was pregnant.
The 6-foot guard for the Washington Wizards had been friends with Glass for four years by then, and he loved hanging out with the pretty schoolteacher who got along so well with his family. But at 31, he couldn't bring himself to call Glass his girlfriend, much less make her his wife -- and those commitment issues certainly didn't improve with the announcement in 2002 that she was expecting.
"Oh man," he says. "I was frantic."
The two first met in 1999 when a friend of Glass's, who worked in community relations for the Wizards, arranged for Whitney to speak to a group of fourth graders at Lamont Elementary School in New Carrollton. Whitney, who can be shy at times, was hesitant to walk into the classroom alone, so Glass, a special education teacher at the school, marched him down the hall and introduced him to the awe-struck 9-year-olds.
Glass often joined her friend at Wizards games, and in time, she and Whitney fell into the same social circle, gathering at clubs and restaurants to celebrate victories or hang out on off-days.
"I had feelings for him the whole time," says Glass, a Washington native. "He was very funny and nice and honest . . . and he had been through some struggles in his life, so he could appreciate what he had."
Whitney came to care for Glass, too, but, "I wasn't ready for a relationship," he says. As a professional athlete, there was too much travel and too many distractions, too many people grabbing for him and not enough confidence in whom he could trust.
"Both men and women, they get intoxicated with the lifestyle, the fame. You go somewhere and there's a line around the corner, but I walk to the front . . . some people love it," says Whitney, who grew up in Kentucky. "So you have to try to figure out who's there because, 'Hey, I like Chris. Chris is really cool.' "
If he'd asked her, Glass would've married Whitney when she found out she was pregnant. But it didn't go that way: Many of his friends and advisers were warning him to be careful.
"He still had people in his ear saying, 'Oh, she just wants the money,' " recalls Glass, who was also 31 at the time. " 'She's having a baby by you, so now she's in this category. She's trying to get this. She's trying to get that.' "
Two months after Casaan was born, Whitney was traded to the Denver Nuggets, leaving Glass to raise their son by herself. Even when Whitney returned to Washington the following year, he had limited contact with Casaan. "There was a lot of strain," Glass says.
Eventually the couple's relationship deteriorated completely: They stopped speaking for four years. Whitney went on to have three more sons with other women. Glass adopted a teenage boy whose parents passed away and had another son of her own.
In August 2008, four years after Whitney last played in the NBA, he switched to a new money-management firm and asked to meet with Glass to discuss their child-support arrangement. Standing face to face by her car, they lingered, catching up and looking at recent pictures of Casaan.
"It was like we never missed a beat. We just talked and talked . . . about things we never talked about before," Whitney says. "And the next thing you know, we were just always hanging out together. We did everything together."
But for a while, they did everything together in secret. Glass knew what her friends and family would think about a reunion between the two. For years she hadn't allowed his name to be spoken in her house -- even the friend who first introduced them worried Glass would be hurt again.
"It's shocking in a lot of people's minds," she says. Had someone predicted her relationship with Whitney would be rekindled, "I would've told them they were crazy."
But something had changed in Whitney since she knew him last. "Being away from each other was kind of a blessing -- it gave us each time to grow. To figure out what we wanted," Glass says. "He had focused so much on basketball all his life that he never took time out to think about family and what family means."
After four months, Glass invited Whitney to start spending time at her house with Casaan and the other boys. Like his father, Casaan, now 7, always had a painful shy streak. "But since his dad came home? It's like this child has blossomed," Glass says, now 38. "It's just been wonderful."
Whitney, also 38, began packing lunches, driving the kids to school and trusting that Glass liked him for who he was, not what he'd done on the basketball court. "She became my best friend -- somebody I could confide in and talk to," he says. "I'd never had anybody I could tell everything to before."
That winter he made a suggestion: "Let's become a family." They tattooed each other's names around their ring fingers and officially got engaged last September.
Glass is the type to turn everyone she meets into a friend, and keep them for life, so nearly 500 people were invited to the New Year's Day wedding at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Capitol Heights. Whitney walked down the aisle with Casaan, who served as best man as his parents exchanged vows. After a 70-minute ceremony that included a gospel band, a serenade from a guest and a nine-person wedding party they referred to as their "entourage," the couple left for a reception at the Glenview Mansion in Rockville.
Both sometimes think about why the bond that exists between them now didn't materialize 10 years ago.
"We just weren't ready for it," says Glass. "We wouldn't have known it if it flew in our face. But now it's like this road we traveled together."