Markel Brown: 'Basketball teaches you how to cope'

Mar 06, 2019 by Print
Markel Brown: 'Basketball teaches you how to cope'

If you want to see a living example of how sport can inspire people to triumph in the face of adversity, look no further than Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul guard Markel Brown.

When Brown was a young boy, his mother grew sick. She suffered from a brain aneurysm and had to spend the rest of her life in a nursing home before passing away when Brown was 14 years old.

After his mother became unable to care for him, Brown and his sisters moved in with their father's side of the family, where they were looked after by their grandparents and grew up alongside their uncles and aunts.

"Hard as it was for me, it was even harder for my sister to lose her mother."

But just three months after his mother passed away, Brown also lost one of his uncles, who died while attempting to rescue people from a house fire.

The awful experience of losing his mother and the uncle he describes as a father figure within a span of weeks would have been enough to break many people, especially at the tender age of 14.

But Brown already had something in his life which made him retain his focus and motivation to become successful in life: he had basketball.

"I was really little when I started playing basketball, probably around five years old," he recalls. "Basketball had always been a family sport for me. My uncles played, my mom and dad, everyone played before me. So I had always been around basketball.

"I first started out playing with friends, sunup until sundown, in the backyards or on the street, anywhere I could play. I was out with my friends, all day every day! That's how we had fun, just playing basketball."

In those innocent younger days, that's all basketball was: fun. But that changed when Brown suffered the double tragedy of losing his mother and his uncle in quick succession, forcing him to take stock of his life. At that point, basketball became more than just fun. Now, it was also a comfort – and an inspiration.

"Basketball definitely helped me," he says. "It gave me extra motivation. Losing them made me put more focus on making basketball my goal, to play professionally. It motivated me to become a better player. I knew I wanted to play basketball professionally and make it my career."

Brown's motivation to get serious about his future was double: following his basketball dream, but also setting an example for his younger sister, Moryia, who is three years younger than him.

"I had to be her backbone and show her that anything is possible in life, you can dream as big as you want," he says. "I had to set a huge example for her, and to be there for her. As hard as it was for me, it was even harder for my sister to lose her mother and her uncle, who looked after us.

"So I definitely had to start taking basketball more seriously, make my family proud and be able to support my sister."

Brown certainly did all that. After graduating from Oklahoma State, he signed for the Brooklyn Nets and played more than 100 games in the NBA. He also had a spell in the 7DAYS EuroCup with Khimki Moscow Region, and is now enjoying his first taste of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with Darussafaka.

As you would expect, throughout his career Brown has stayed close to his family and he knows they are proud of everything he has achieved.

"Losing my mother and uncle was hard to take," he reflects. "It was difficult. But my family helped me out and we supported each other. I was raised by my grandparents and we became even closer, and even now I still speak to my grandma every other day. I share a lot with them. They still live back in Louisiana where I'm from, and I go and see them whenever I can.

"I'd love them to visit me in Istanbul, but they don't really travel a lot. I managed to get them to come to New York once when I was playing in Brooklyn, about three years ago. That was their first time flying, and New York is as far as they're gonna go. They definitely won't be coming out to Istanbul…I don't think they're ready for that one!

"But they are happy for me that I get a chance to explore different things and travel the world. They were very supportive of me making this move. It's not easy to pack up and go to another country, but they've been very helpful in making me feel comfortable. I told them Istanbul is great, lots of people, it feels Americanized in a lot of places, with the malls and the food."

Brown also still has a close relationship with Moryia, his younger sister: "She's at school right now, at Southern University, and she's doing pretty good. She's happy for me that after all we've been through, I'm still here dreaming the dream."

"After all we've been through, I'm still here dreaming the dream."

Although Brown has already succeeded in his ambition of making a career for himself in basketball, he hasn't stopped learning life lessons through his chosen sport. In particular, he values the camaraderie and togetherness derived from being part of a team.

"Basketball teaches you how to cope with life outside the court and get through certain situations," he says. "And your team is like a family. Your teammates grow to be your brothers. You're around each other 24/7 – practice, games, traveling on the road. I know these guys will always have my back and be there for me, just like family."

Although he's too modest to brag about it, when pressed Brown is also prepared to admit that he is pleased with everything he has achieved – but insists he has not finished yet.

"I'm very proud of myself," he says. "At any moment in my life I could have given up and blamed other people. But I'm proud that I continued to work on my game, and now I'm playing in the best league in Europe and doing what I love to do.

"I want to keep getting better, keep achieving more and keep having fun."