There was no dream too big for the eldest of Pamela Long's three children, even those times when he would watch tapes of his idols, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, in the family's Coatesville home and declare, "I'm going to play in the NBA."

Long ignored the fact that, out of the millions who play basketball in middle school, high school and college every year, only slightly more than 400 are good enough to make NBA rosters in a given season.

She would not discourage the goals and aspirations of her tall, skinny son, but support them through words, faith and example.

The son, Richard Hamilton, grew up to be one of the finest guards playing today in the NBA, a two-time all-star leading the Detroit Pistons to what he hopes will be their third berth in the league finals - and second NBA championship - in the last four years.

His schedule may be busy with the NBA playoffs and its obligations, including a game today in Chicago against the Bulls, but a grateful Hamilton makes sure he puts aside enough time to honor his mom on Mother's Day with his two siblings.

"Mother's Day means everything to me," Hamilton, 29, said from Chicago during a break in his preparations. "It's one of the most important days in my life . . . our lives - including my sister and my brother. Mom's the one who created me and developed me the way I am. It's very special for me."

The family, including sister Christena Hamilton, 25, a former basketball star at Temple, and brother Cordell Long, 14, an eighth grader at the School at Church Farm, were to go out to dinner last night in Chicago. Today, they will be in the United Center for Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals.

That is nothing new; Long attends as many playoff games as she can. She often has been out of town with her son and family during Mother's Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas, a holiday on which the Pistons frequently play because of their lengthy run of success and television's desire for ratings.

"The family is the most important time you spend together," Long said. "So if we have to do it in Detroit, we do it in Detroit, not [in Coatesville]. People might wonder why we're leaving home during Christmas. Hey, we're family, and wherever we can be together, that's where we will be."

Mother's Day, however, is extra special for Long, who grew up in a home with her mother and grandmother and learned at an early age the importance of family. Because the Pistons have gone deep into the playoffs in Hamilton's five years in Detroit, they have improvised celebrations in Philadelphia, East Rutherford, N.J., and Cleveland around the second Sunday of May.

"It's not about where you're at," Long said. "It's about spending quality time together. The point is we're all able to be together no matter where it's been, where all of us get together. Richard has a most unusual schedule, but he is able to carve out time, and that's special for us."

Hamilton admitted it's "kind of tough" to find the time because of practice, preparation, film study, workouts and media commitments, which intensify in the postseason. But there's nothing else he'd rather do.

"We always make the time," he said. "We spend time together, go out for something to eat, give gifts. It's a great time. My mom was my everything, and she was everything to us."

Of course, the gifts Hamilton gives his mother these days are probably a little more elaborate than drawing hearts or picking flowers out of a field. He is earning more than $8.9 million this season and will make about $31.7 million over the next three years of his contract.

Long and Hamilton's father, Richard Sr., who shares the nickname "Rip" with his son, split when the younger Richard was around 10. That left Long to raise the children, but Richard Sr. continued to play an active role in their lives. He taped every one of his son's basketball games from the seventh grade on.

Long made sure Richard Jr. did his homework, carried out his chores, and took care of his younger sister. As long as he fulfilled those duties, she never made a fuss when he wanted to shoot hoops or play a pickup game somewhere.

Hamilton got very good at basketball and started to dream big dreams. His mother helped him along the way, encouraging him to visualize his goals and write them down.

"I got posters and cards, and I wrote on them," Hamilton recalled. "I remember my sophomore year [of high school], before the ABCD [summer] camp, I wrote that by the time I came back from camp, I'd be one of the top 25 players in the country. At the time, I think I was in the top 500. But it came true. She had me write down my dreams. She told me I could do whatever I put my mind to.

"I definitely got my values from my mom. Being raised in that household didn't allow me to get in any serious trouble. She would tell me whatever you want to do, it's in God's hands. God has a plan for you to go out and take care of business, and you have to always believe."

"I would tell him, 'Imagine yourself being there and do everything possible to make that happen,' " Long said. "One card he wrote on said he would be the first all-American Coatesville had ever seen. . . . He stayed focused. People would say he was too thin, that he'd never make it. But I told him what you have to do is believe in God and believe in yourself. No one can stop you from getting there."

Long also played the role of chief consultant while Hamilton was sifting through all his college scholarship offers. Any college that mentioned basketball and not academics was crossed off her list. Her son eventually chose Connecticut and played on the Huskies' 1999 national championship team.

The connection between Hamilton and his mother has extended to another area, the Rip City Foundation, a nonprofit established by the family to help kids in the Coatesville community in the areas of education, literacy, nutrition and healthy living.

"My mom is very important with the foundation and the stuff we're trying to tell kids: strong body, strong mind, education," Hamilton said. "You can accomplish anything you want to accomplish, something she always told me."

Hamilton sponsors the Rip City Celebration in Coatesville, which will be held on Aug. 17. In addition, he conducts a summer league for children in Coatesville and a basketball camp in Downingtown.

Basketball aside, the big weekend is this one for the woman who made sure Hamilton and his siblings did all the right things and keeps family traditions alive, no matter in what city they are celebrated.

"It's going to be a great time," Hamilton said. "It's important that my mom has the opportunity to relax and enjoy life. She doesn't have to worry about us kids and putting food on the table. She can relax and have fun."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano
at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.