Sterling Brown entered the Milwaukee Bucks facility with cuts and bruises on his face and tried to ignore the glances of teammates. He kept to himself in an attempt to stay quiet during practice, all the while knowing the final whistle would jumpstart a barrage of questions.
“I tried to play it off smooth and just go in there and handle my business and conduct myself professionally,” Brown told Sports Illustrated, “but I could feel people staring at me, trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Once prompted, with no footage yet released to corroborate his version of events, the story of Brown’s hellish night spilled out. He explained how a routine trip to a Walgreen’s pharmacy escalated and ended with him on the ground, officers all around and a taser in his back.
When Brown entered an empty parking lot and left his car slanted across multiple spaces, he didn’t expect to leave with a harrowing story he would need to share with teammates. He didn’t expect to endure a police interaction that would make him feel lucky to leave with his life still intact.
For Brown, the presence of police suggested he might receive a stern talking-to, maybe a ticket. But the tone of the arresting officers, which was caught on body cam, and the arrival of heavy backup, quickly suggested something more sinister. “I knew it was going to be a long night,” Brown says.
The fallout from that night left a lasting impression on Brown, who is now determined to use his platform to combat police brutality. The second-year Bucks guard has teamed with Puma, becoming the latest member of their #REFORM platform. Brown joins an overall effort that includes names like Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Michael Rubin and Robert Kraft, company he is happy to be associated with.
With a focus on reforming the relationships between police and local communities, Brown wants to spin one of the worst nights of his life into something positive for others.
“It’s put me in a unique situation to be a voice for many,” Brown says. “It’s allowed me to educate myself on a lot of stuff that’s going on in the country and within the police force as far as training. It’s allowed me to build a foundation and be able to start something that will allow me to contribute to the youth.”
The first step in Brown’s effort will start on Feb. 2, when he wears the Clyde Court #REFORM sneakers. Brown will sport two different pairs of sneakers—one black, one red—in Milwaukee’s game against the Wizards in the nation’s capital, each color with its own meaning. The shoe has black to represent the U.S. prison system, red for the blood of those who sacrificed in the fight against oppression and a quote from track legend Tommie Smith.
Brown explained the thinking behind his sneaker switch, saying, “People are going to be watching the game, they’re going to see, ‘Oh, he changed shoes,’ and then that’ll make them see what it’s about and what they stand for. And that’s just going to keep everything flowing.”
The public outcry around Brown, who still has an open civil rights lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee, caught the attention of many, but he can’t help but wonder how this would have turned out if he weren’t an NBA player. Brown, the younger brother of former NBA player Shannon Brown, is aware of the spotlight playing professional sports can bring. It likely led to the firing of one arresting officer and could have further ramifications down the line.
“They thought I was just another black guy with a nice car in the hood,” Brown says. “Them not knowing my background and what I do professionally should magnify what’s going on. Me being a Buck, I definitely have to carry myself, present myself in a certain way. But at the same time, this happened when they didn’t know who I was.”
The people who know Brown best never considered anything other than foul play in his Milwaukee arrest. He admits that he did field pointed questions within his own locker room and elsewhere, but never felt like they were asked maliciously. And when the footage was released, Brown received supreme support from around the league. Players, NBA owners and general managers reached out.
Brown was elated to know the greater NBA family was behind him, and he wants to extend that same olive branch to regular, everyday people who go through similar experiences.
“I can bring a lot of awareness and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Brown says, “especially with my case, starting here in Milwaukee, and the goal is to make this worldwide as far as police training and different tactics that they can take, educating the youth on what they can do in different situations. So the platform I have is huge and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”