I had the opportunity to chat with Tamara “Tammy” Sutton-Brown, and was blown away by her passion when it came to discussing her experiences as a Professional Basketball Player. Reigning from Markham, Ontario, this GTA-born woman began her professional career as a Centre, by studying post-secondary, and playing NCAA Basketball at Rutgers University in New Jersey, after being rated Canada’s Top Female Basketball Prospect, during her high school years.
During the 2001 WNBA Draft, Tammy was selected 18th overall in the second round, signing with the Charlotte Sting. Tammy played with the Sting until 2006 when the team ceased, which lead her to singing with the Indiana Fever. During her time in the WNBA, Tammy was a 2x All-Star, as well as WNBA Champion, in 2012
Beyond her impressive time spent in the WNBA, Tammy was also a part of Team Canada during the 2000 Olympics, as well as playing overseas in Korea, and for USK Prague, Dynamo Moscow, and Fenerbahce Istanbul.
Tammy did not actively play during the 2013 season, and contrary to her Wikipedia page, her retirement is not yet official.
With an impressive background in Pro Ball, it was even more inspiring to hear about some of Tammy’s latest projects, and her honest opinions on what it’s like to be an athlete overseas, dealing with a long-distance relationship, and what it was like to be a trailblazer in Women’s Professional Basketball. I’m delighted to introduce you to a strong, determined, passionate and charismatic Sports Babe of the Day, and someone who truly empowers what we stand for at BDB, Tamara “Tammy” Sutton-Brown!
28 Questions with Tammy Sutton-Brown
1) What sports did you play growing up?
What didn’t I play?! My parents had me in – wow- it feels like everything. I started swimming when I was 8, and I did that for a couple years. I actually thought that was the avenue I’d take. When I turned 10, they wanted me to get really competitive, which would have taken up more of my time than I would have wanted at 10 years old. I did a little bit of figure skating, which no one probably knows, though don’t ask me to skate now! I played Softball, Volleyball, and Track-and-Field in high school. My parents always kept me active and involved after school.
2) Wow – it sounds like you had a lot on the go! So when was it that you decided that getting into Pro Basketball would be for you?
Honestly?! It wasn’t until my junior year of college! My first year of University is when the WNBA started. I didn’t know my options of playing overseas at the time. In junior year, my third year, that’s when the possibility came about for me, professionally. It’s interesting; we watched the Michael Jordans and Larry Birds and Magic Johnsons of the NBA, but there wasn’t a league of women for me to look up to before that – Now, it’s great for the girls coming up.
3) You went to school in the states, and played for Rutgers – did you go on a scholarship? What was that process like, as a Canadian?
I did go on scholarship! I think back when I went, before NCAA was really a big option for Canadians, I didn’t have a lot of people to talk about the process, but I did it. I still have a box of letters I received during recruitment. You could take 5 official visits to the universities that wanted you, and coaches from different teams did home visits; they would come and talk to myself, and my parents, and try to sell themselves, and the schools, and the teams. I decided to go to Rutgers, and was on a full scholarship. The first year I was there, was when the WNBA opened up. Now, with these new kids emerging, it’s on another level! There are more schools looking in Canada now, focusing on the talent we have here, so the recruitment process has changed a bit.
4) How did you end up in the WNBA?
The WNBA, league wise, and the coaches that coach on the teams, do a great job during the off-season of going to a number of college games, watching a number of games on TV, and doing the same process as the NCAA, in terms of looking at players and scouting for what their team might need. At the end of the college season, they have the WNBA draft that takes place. Basically, there’s a pool of women in their senior year that can be drafted; we’re not like the men, where you can leave and be drafted by the NBA after your first year. The WNBA fly in the top prospects, so they’re present at the draft. Since my draft year was in New Jersey, I was invited. It was a great day – it was an exciting day.
5) You also played overseas, too. What was the timeline like for that?
From the end of the WNBA season, you have a week or two off, depending on how well your team does, and then you’re overseas for basically the rest of the year. I did WNBA, went overseas, and also trained with the National Team for a few years – I was getting burnt out, getting no rest time, and my body wasn’t recuperating. It was after the World Championships in Brazil that we played, that I decided to give up on the National Team.
It was hard – it’s one of those things that you get used to, because you’re constantly constantly going – it has positives, like always being in shape, but it has negatives too; you don’t get the rest time that you know you should really have.
6) Who influenced you the most, while playing? Was there a team, or player that you wanted to emulate?
I think it was a combination of enjoying the game, and since I was tall growing up, I was directed into basketball because of height. I think that’s how it happened, when I was in elementary school, but after falling in love with the game, and going to high school, and having a great coach (George Kraus) who knew what he was doing, it escalated from there! My high school coach definitely influenced me, and watching the players that I loved play, made a combination.
7) So if you were going to nominate someone to be a Sports Babe of the Day, who do you think it would be?
Michael Jordan! Because he’s Michael Jordan!
8) What has been your best basketball-related memory to date?
No doubt, hands down, my best memory was playing in the Olympics, and representing Canada! The whole idea of being there, standing there, as one of 12 people representing the whole nation… hands down, amazing. Don’t get me wrong, the WNBA championship was huge, but representing Canada was the best thing. It was amazing to be with the best athletes in the world, in the village – that’s an experience I’ll never forget.
9) So if you could start your own team, a fantasy team, where would it be? And what would your jerseys be like?
Anywhere in the world? I would have it in… this may be really weird, but I’d have it in the Maldives, or Dubai. Two places I’ve never been, but definitely want to go to – the locations speak for themselves! Build a court on the beach, and we’re good. They’re both on my bucket-list, and I think both would be places to relax, work, and then play for the rest of the day. I love the water – especially beach water. Put me on a beach, and I’m good. As for the jerseys… purple, silver, and black. Purple is my favorite colour!
10) Who would be on your starting lineup?
Am I coaching? If I am, I’d love to work with Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi, Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, and Katie Smith. They would be my five!
11) Were you superstitious when you were playing? Are there any rituals you had to do before each game?
I would always make sure I got a nap in on game days, and I always had music on the way to the game! There wasn’t one particular song – I just neeeeeded music. the last couple of years, I ended up finding myself eating the same thing if we were on the road for game days.
12) When people watch televised games, and see players from opposing teams talking, they always wonder what’s being said; is it always trash talk?
It wasn’t always trash talk – no – well not always in the girls’ games. I think it was more joking around with us. The difference between our games and the men’s games, is that we’ll see ourselves overseas playing with some of the people we played against in the league. It’s a smaller pool of athletes, and you pretty much know everybody to some degree. A lot of the times, we were cracking jokes on the court, more than anything.
12) If you were were watching the game, where would your ideal seats be? Would they differ, based on who you were watching with?
If we’re doing a Fan Experience with Tsquared, a suite would be great! If it were just me at a WNBA game, my ideal seats would be courtside, just because then I can talk to the players during the game.
This is the first year I’ve had off, so I went back a few times during the season, and the first game, it was weird sitting on the other side, as opposed to sitting on the bench with the girls. I found myself talking to my teammates during the game.
13) Was that surreal?
It was weird, I found myself telling them things – I was supporting them, but from a different side, from a different seat.
14) So you were keeping them amped up on the court! If you had been in the locker room with them before the game, what would you tell them to get them going?
I would tell them to turn off the lights! The last year we won the championship, there was a song, Turn on the Lights, and I heard it in the locker room. I misheard it, and a teammate heard me and corrected me, but it picked up! We would go out, play so well, and “shoot the lights out in the gym”. That was our thing – we’d play so well we’d turned the lights off. It stuck throughout the whole season, to the point where even the news staff were talking about it during playoffs. They would all know what it means.
15) How would your teammates describe you?
They would say “Diva” which stuck with me for a few years, but I don’t necessarily think is true. They would probably also call me “Mom”. I took care of everybody, and we played in cities we weren’t familiar with… when we were put up in apartments, I’d be the one cooking and hosting the girls, and trying to bring them together. I liked playing Mom.
16) Who is your biggest fan?
My parents! My mom never missed any of my high school games. Even if my dad was working, my mom was always there! Playing at Rutgers University was 9 hours from home, so they would make teh drive a few times a year. We would have an American Thanksgiving Classic, which was always hosted at Rutgers, and they would always come see me for March Madness too! Even when I was playing in the WNBA, they’d always make trips to see me. They would come when I had a block of home-games. My sister is very supportive too!
17) You kept up a long-distance bond with your family… have you ever been in a long-distance relationship?
I was in one for four years, while playing. Being overseas, and playing overseas was challenging and difficult, but if two people are willing to make it work, it can work. It’s tough – it’s definitely not for everybody. I tell the younger girls coming up that overseas itself may not be for everybody, but adding the pressure of being in a different country, in a different time zone… it adds challenges to a relationship. It takes work. I did it before smartphones and Skype and FaceTime were around, too.
18) So right now, are you single, dating, or locked down?
Right now, single!
19) So because you’ve traveled so much for ball, what is one thing you can’t leave your home without?
Most of my travel overseas was before smartphones, so I always had to have my iPod, and I always traveled with my Bible. I also had a pillow that was always with me – it was the most comfortable pillow in the world. I always had it. Oh – and ketchup chips! I always brought a few bags with me!
20) Yeah – that’s a good point… they don’t have ketchup chips in the states, let alone overseas. So are ketchup chips a part of your favorite cheat meal?
Yes – they’re my favorite. It got to a point when I was in Indiana and missing them that I tweeted out that I wanted ketchup chips. I ended up having people bringing them to me at the game! It was hilarious. They’re my food addiction.
21) Apart from your cheat meal, you must lead a pretty balanced lifestyle to keep your immune system in fighting shape with all of the workouts, games, travel… what is most important in your routine?
As an athlete, you with the older you get, that nutrition is a big part of your health. Whatever you fuel your body with will obviously keep you going. I drink a lot of water in general, but especially through flights and workouts to stay hydrated. I always took my vitamins to make sure I had my daily doses. I think it’s a combination, but a lot of that can be handled through the meals you eat too! Stay on top of good nutrition – it’s so important. I think that’s what really helped me have a long career. Especially for the women that play a season in the WNBA, and then are overseas a week later. We play year-round, and staying on top of how we fuel our bodies is a big part of it.
22) Speaking of taking proper care of your body, I wanted to chat with you about your confidence. We put athletes on a pedestal, both for their image, and their skills, and we sometimes forget they’re not perfect. Is there anything you’re insecure about, that no one would guess about you?
You hit it on the nose – we’re not perfect. We have our bad days. There are periods or times when athletes can go through a slump, and everyone thinks it’s so easy to wake yourself up, and shake it off. You have to go through the process though, and eventually figure it out, and come out of it. That period in itself makes you feel like nothing is going the right away. That’s where you figure out that you can put your energy into everything else that you CAN control (like playing defense, rebounding, etc.) and then the shot will take care of itself.
23) While you were playing overseas, did you have any struggle with culture shock, or religious issues, or sexism?
Nothing really surprised me, but I will say that even before I went over to Turkey, for example, you have this image in your head of what a place will be… sometimes it will surprise you, when you’re there, living it. I played in Istanbul, which is a major city in Turkey – it’s very, very Americanized. If you go outside the city, an hour even, it’s very… traditional.
I played in Russia in my second year, 2002, and there were 3 of us that were American and of colour, and we would go grocery shopping and get stared at all the time. That was an hour-and-a-half outside of Moscow, in Samara. At the same time though, I know that even grocery shopping here, in Toronto, I can be stared at for my height.
I do consider myself a trailblazer; With some of the situations and places I’ve been to and played in, I’ve opened up doors, and made it easier for foreigners to come and play. Now, it seems normal, but in the earlier years, we were setting the pace.
Apart from the way our appearance sometimes shocked them, the one thing I noticed about Russia, was in the winter, it felt like the sun NEVER. CAME. OUT. I was used to the cold, being from Canada, but the sun never shone. The weather was depressing, but we made the best of it.
24) With all of the places you’ve traveled and played, what’s the best, most meaningful souvenir you have?
My Dog! I picked up my Dog in Korea! I got my Yorkie in 2004, so he’ll be 10 this year in Human years!
I pick something up from everywhere I play.
25) What made you decide to come back and have your life in the GTA?
I had a place near downtown for years, that when I was playing year round, I had it rented out. When I stopped playing, I knew “this is home”.
I still go back and forth to the US a lot, but I have the family here.
26) Now that you’re back, you’ve taken a brief hiatus from Basketball. I see that you’ve got a series of children’s books out! What made you decide to write them?
My books revolve around two characters, Cree and Scooter, and honestly, Cree is a mini version of myself! The stories stem from all of my travels, and having played in all these different countries. Scooter is a stuffed animal that Cree got from her brother. She quickly found out that her stuffed chameleon comes to life in her dreams, and takes her on crazy traveling adventures.
The series is about going from country-to-country, learning about cultures and customs. It’s educational, but it’s fun and engaging for kids; they’re not realizing their learning, and parents can rest assured, knowing that they’re enjoying themselves.
27) That’s amazing that you can share your experiences with a younger generation, in such an engaging way. If you could tell your 16-year-old self something, what would it be?
Stay open. Stay open to the possibilities. At the end of the day, I think we all have things we want to do, and things we want to accomplish, and there will always be people that tell you “No, that can’t happen”. I think Kevin Garnett said it so well, after he won the championship a few years ago – he said “anything is possible”. I can attest to that. Here I stand, this little (well, not exactly little) black girl from Canada, and I’ve traveled the world. The best thing about basketball, and being so blessed to play, is that t has opened my eyes to the world – different cultures, and customs. Even the friends that I have now, that I can hit up, and still communicate with, from Turkey, or Korea even. It’s the best thing that I’m not just stuck on MY OWN – it’s not just Canada, or North America. There’s a whole world to experience, and I’m so thankful for the talent I’ve been blessed with. So always stay open to the possibilities. Always.
28) So apart from the Children’s Series, is there anything else that you’re working on?
Tsquared! Tiffany and I are creating experiences for fans, and you should definitely keep an eye out for that! We’ll be running “Twas the week before Christmas” this year, which is a giveaway contest that I’ll be running on Twitter with a few of my NBA and WNBA friends. We’ll give fans the chance to win some of the hottest Christmas Wishlist Items! We’ll be running this December the 16th to the 20th, Monday to the Friday.
Chocolate or Vanilla
Rap or Rock
Smooth or Crunchy Peanut Butter
Cat or Dog
My Korean Dog!
BlackBerry or iPhone
Ummm… neither! SAMSUNG GALAXY!
Twitter or Facebook
Sun or Snow
Sun… I like the snow, but definitely the sun!
Coffee or Tea
Tea – Green!
Salty or Sweet
Salty, all day. Ketchup Chips.
RomCom or Horror
Definitely not horror, so RomCom
Talk or Text