In the first episode of HBO’s Mare of Easttown, we see Kate Winslet, playing Mare, stride onto the basketball court at her old high school, where she was once a star. “Miss Lady Hawk herself,” the announcer proclaims, “Mare Sheehan!” Along with her teammates, Mare won a Pennsylvania state championship 25 years before, and Mare, it seems, hit the big shot.
We’ve seen Winslet, as Mare, talk a little about her high school career, but have never seen her play. Which leads to the inevitable questions: Can Kate Winslet play basketball? What kind of player is she? How’s her handle? Does this seven-time Oscar nominee shoot the 3 or body in the paint? Is she more of a scorer or a pass-first point guard? I had to know, so I emailed her publicist, asking all of the above questions, and her publicist’s assistant wrote back, very quickly, to say, “Kate is not able to participate, but thank you for thinking of her for this.”
So if I couldn’t get it from the star herself, I’d need to do some investigating. Luckily, I’ve seen many of the 42 movies Kate Winslet’s appeared in, and a legion of fans have done a lot of work compiling YouTube clips of some of her greatest moments. So we’re able to get a pretty good idea of what she brings to the court. Let’s break down her recruiting profile.
Though at 45 she’s assuredly lost a step, the 5-foot-6 Winslet shows great footwork (in this video of her tap-dancing during her Saturday Night Live opening monologue) and agility (in this video of her whirling around with Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic). Unfortunately, while Rose told Jack, “If you jump, I jump,” Rose’s actual jump from the lifeboat to the railing of the Titanic does not suggest a great vertical leap.
Meanwhile, balance and speed seem marginal in this video of Winslet running down a hill in Sense and Sensibility, though it’s worth noting she’s running on grass, in the rain, wearing Regency-era shoes. 3 out of 5.
Exceptional. Winslet reportedly broke Tom Cruise’s world record for free diving by a movie star, staying underwater more than seven minutes during the filming of Avatar 2. 5 out of 5.
Kate Winslet is very strong for a player her size. She has single-handedly carried movies like Hideous Kinky, Revolutionary Road, and Little Children, all of which would likely have been terrible without her formidable presence at the center. She even dead-lifted The Reader to a Best Picture nomination, a feat no strength coach thought possible. 4 out of 5.
Unclear, as we could find no footage of Winslet playing basketball. In 2010, Page Six reported that she missed a day of filming Mildred Pierce due to a bruise suffered while shooting hoops with her kids, but even LeBron James has taken a basketball to the face. Is Kate Winslet the ballhandler that LeBron James is? Possibly not, but she’s always prepared for a role, so it’s safe to assume she at least has developed a crossover. 2 out of 5.
Off the charts. She’s got a strong work ethic, a fierce intelligence, and an unstinting competitive drive. (She’s lost the Oscar six out of seven times but keeps coming back for more.) She’s a natural leader—in Heavenly Creatures, would Melanie Lynskey’s Pauline ever have murdered her mom without Juliet’s firm guidance? She’s versatile, appearing in highbrow fare like Iris and junk like Divergent. She can do any accent, even the daunting Delco. And she can really wear a dress. 5 out of 5.
19 out of 25—not bad! Maybe Kate Winslet’s not a blue chip recruit, but she’s definitely someone you want on your team.
Sportswriter Mike Jensen, for his part, thinks Winslet’s a baller. Jensen, who’s been reporting on local hoops for the Philadelphia Inquirer for three decades, started his career covering high school basketball in Delaware County. “Obviously she’s a winner,” Jensen said of Winslet. “You want her on your team. But you’re trying not to draft her first. You’re trying to sneak her onto your squad.” I asked if, in his opinion, Kate Winslet was a shooter, a 2 guard, and he said no way. “Nah, she’s gonna mix it up a little bit,” he said. “She’s a 3, a 4, an old-style forward. You want her underneath the basket and getting to the rim.”
The four episodes that have aired so far have used Mare’s hoops career as a backdrop, contrasting her onetime glory with her current glum circumstances. But I wanted to know more, so I asked Mike, with his years of experience, “What was that 1995 championship team like?”
“I wasn’t at the championship game,” Jensen said, “but I caught Easttown on their run to the final. I saw Mare in action, and she was memorable.” Mare Sheehan played with a chip on her shoulder, he said—the girl who scored 15 points in a game, then bought a 50-cent salt pretzel at the concession stand and ate that for dinner. “Mare was that kid who played against the kids who played in AAU in the summer, and she beat them—even though she couldn’t play AAU, because she worked a summer job.”
Though Easttown is technically a fictional high school, it’s exactly the kind of school, Jensen said, that would forever celebrate a single girls basketball title. “A school like this would compete for a state championship once in an era, once in a generation,” he said. Easttown can’t beat out schools from Chester, Reading, or Williamsport for recruits. “This would happen once, and it would be memorable.” He couldn’t quite remember who coached Easttown in ’95, but he said, “She was probably a woman who played for the Immaculata Mighty Macs, or a dad who played for someone who played for Jack Ramsay at St Joe’s. She definitely had an uncle who was a high school ref.”
Philly’s high school hoops culture is tightly interwoven across generations and genders, Jensen said. I asked if that meant that Mare ever caught a game against Kobe Bryant, who in 1995 was in his junior year as a star at nearby Lower Merion. “No, I think Mare was savvy enough to say, yeah, I’m not playing with that guy,” Jensen said, laughing. “She played with all the guys in Easttown who were willing to get their butts kicked. She didn’t have to venture out farther to get a game.”
Jensen thinks that Mare’s high school career has a bigger role to play in the drama yet to come. After all, he pointed out, the show’s creator, Brad Ingelsby, isn’t just a native of the Philly suburbs. He’s from a basketball family. His dad, Tom, was a star at Cardinal O’Hara High in Springfield, where he won a Catholic League championship, and he later coached at Archbishop Carroll in Radnor. Brad’s brother Martin played for Tom at Carroll and now is the head coach at the University of Delaware. With hoops in his blood, show creator Brad, you’ve got to assume, means for Mare’s basketball experience to be more than atmosphere.
So there’s surely more to come. Perhaps a backstory reveal about Mare’s post–Easttown High career? Every player Jensen’s covered with Mare’s résumé played college ball. “Finances wouldn’t get in the way,” he said. “If she wasn’t quite quick enough to play D1, there are really good D2 programs that would give her a full scholarship in a heartbeat.” If she didn’t attend college, why not? Does her limp after chasing a suspect betray a career-ending injury, perhaps an ACL tear?
Myself, I think Mare’s basketball experience will tie into the series’s central mystery. I envision a climactic scene, a one-on-one battle between Mare and the murderer—whoever that may be—on a municipal court some misty morning. “If you win, you get to arrest me,” the murderer says. “If I win, I get to murder you.” Mare, with the confidence of a kid who wore Michael Jordan’s No. 23 in high school, agrees—and then, as the soundtrack soars, we finally see Kate Winslet go behind the back and take it to the hoop.