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It Takes A Village: How The Women in Sterling Brown’s Life Shaped Him Into The Man He Is Today

Kelsea O'Brien /March 24, 2023

In basketball circles, Sterling Brown is, by all accounts, a unicorn. His six professional seasons have awarded him the veteran knowledge that he passes on to his teammates, while his body, bulldozing through defenders like a raging bull, is as spry as his rookie teammates. The most tenured of the current Raptors 905 roster, his commitment to improving his game is as infectious as the energy he brings every time he steps onto the hardwood. Off the court, Brown is as humble as they come. He isn’t flashy, nor is he unapproachable. He stays late after a game, with a lineup for autographs that circles the arena and he takes the time to make conversation with every fan; not because he is obligated, but because it is the right thing to do.

“It’s just how I was raised,” said Brown.

Growing up alongside two-time NBA champion Shannon Brown, a safe assumption would be that Sterling Brown followed in the footsteps of his older brother, looking to him for career and life guidance. Shannon, after all, had a professional career spanning 12 years, and the hardware to show for it. While he does credit his brother for his love of the game, it is the women in Sterling’s life that have been his biggest influences.

“Cappie Pondexter.”

Without hesitation, Sterling Brown is quick to name the player whose guidance had the biggest influence on him. He has played with Giannis, he has played with LeBron, and while their superstardom and their talent certainly impacted his knowledge and his play, his relationship with Pondexter, a superstar in her own right, is the one he credits with being the most powerful.

Born and raised in Maywood, Illinois, just a hop and a skip away from Chicago, the younger Brown reminisces on playing until the sun set and the street lights turned on. Though Shannon was in the midst of his career, he still frequented the courts where his brother would spend all of his free time, the same courts that made Pondexter into one of the biggest names in basketball to ever come out of Chicago.

When Shannon introduced Cappie to his younger brother, it wasn't the game of basketball that they initially bonded over, but the history of the sport. “I’m a big history buff and she gave me the history lessons of knowing the greats and knowing who came before me,” said Brown.

The greats that Brown and Pondexter spoke at length about should include Pondexter herself. A two-time NBA champion, seven-time All-Star, three-time All-WNBA First Team member, and a list of accolades that continue to grow long after her retirement, Pondexter’s influence on Brown’s game can be seen in the lockdown defense that both are renowned for. It can be seen in offensive settings, in shots that seem almost impossible to make for anyone outside of the two guards, in the constant communication on the floor, and in the fearless head-to-head moments when tensions in a close game run high. “I knew who she was,” says Brown., “…but to know her greatness and how she contributed to the game, that’s everything. Cappie is just a great person.”

Pondexter’s ascendancy on Brown’s on-court achievements is only one facet of what makes him such an enamoring human being. Off the court, again, it is the women in his life who keep him grounded, and who remind him of exactly why he plays.

“My grandmother, she took care of all of her kids, and all of their kids and the entire family. She always had an open door for everyone,” said Brown. Conceivably, it is likely that his grandmother’s warmth is what makes Sterling such an ideal teammate.

“He knows the ins and outs, the grind of it. He keeps a lot of the young guys in check because he has a lot of NBA experience,” says Raptors 905 teammate Jeff Dowtin Jr. “Guys follow his lead and take bits and pieces from him and he really helps his teammates.”

The help that Dowtin speaks of is a natural transition for Brown, who never misses an opportunity to praise his teammates for the intangibles in the game that may go unnoticed to others. “(Being a veteran) is a role that I had to embrace and figure out, and I love it. It’s good for me and it’s good for the team,” added Brown.

His calm and inviting demeanour is one that has been passed down throughout generations, not skipping his mother, Sandra, to whom Brown attributes much of both his success and his frame of mind.

“My mother and my grandma, the work that they put in, their perseverance, the way they take care of their families, that had a huge impact on me.” Sterling is as quick to sing the praises of the women in his life as he is to give his teammates their flowers. The biggest lesson, the one that Sterling Brown will carry long after he retires from the game, is a simple one, inherited from the women who moulded the man who possesses an innate ability to see the positive in every situation.

“Treat people how you want to be treated. Do what you do and have fun with it. Work hard and stay out of the way.”