In Judy Carlick-Pearson’s world, basketball and family are so close, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.
“It’s in our blood,” said the multi-time All Native Tournament women’s division 2018 finalist. “My sister and I have learned so many valuable characteristics and values in basketball, which have shaped us to be who we are today.”
For Carlick-Pearson, lessons began as she watched her older sister, Roberta Edzerza playing in Prince Rupert and being recruited to play for provincial teams. As is often the case in sport, the desire to be like her older sibling drove Carlick-Pearson, then eight years old, to pick up a basketball.
If Edzerza was her yardstick, Carlick-Pearson’s mother, Sandra Carlick, was her driving force and compass. Sandra would watch NBA double-headers with her daughters, pointing out the subtle techniques that Michael Jordan did to get past his defender and score. Their mother also enrolled them both in basketball camps and local city leagues for them to hone their game.
“Even when my mom would ground me and put me in timeouts, I’d have a ball and be throwing the basketball up against the wall until she’d kick me out of the house because she was tired of hearing the ball hitting the wall,” Carlick-Pearson said.
Sandra also played the role of referee between her two daughters, and was present when Carlick-Pearson beat her older sister for the first time one-on-one. Carlick-Pearson, who is eight years younger than her sister, said the two started playing on a sunny, summer afternoon at the old Westview School and continued until the pair need light from Sandra’s car to see where the basket was.
Carlick-Pearson eventually won by one point.
“My mum was in the car and she was the referee,” said Carlick-Pearson. “There was blood, there was scratching, there was crying, there was everything.
“I ended up beating her for the first time. After eight years of trying to be like her, I ended up finally beating her when I was 16.”
Even though there was a natural rivalry between Carlick-Pearson and her sister, family always came first. In 1993, she played in the first ever women’s division of the All Native Basketball Tournament for the Kaien Island team. Even though they were the youngest team in the tournament, Kaien Island battled their way to the finals.
Once again, Carlick-Pearson was matched up against her sister, who was playing with a team from Vancouver Island.
“My mom was in the audience at the 50-yard line,” said Carlick-Pearson. “She always said, ‘I don’t cheer for one team or the other.’”
Kaien Island eventually won the game against the older, more experienced team, an achievement that hasn’t been matched since.
“The biggest celebration that was had was not only from our teammates for beating this much older ladies team,” said Carlick-Pearson. “But it was my sister running from one end of the court to the other end to congratulate me.”
Over the years, the sisters have teamed up to play together on Metlakatla teams that have won nine tournament championships. As was the case with their one-on-one game, the two always leave everything they have on the court, often sacrificing their bodies to do so. Carlick-Pearson has played in a tournament just days after getting MCL surgery and her sister has torn her ACL and Achilles tendon while playing.
“I played 12 days after giving birth to my son Carver,” she said.
When asked why she, her sister and so many other players are willing to give so much to play a game, Carlick-Pearson said it all comes back to one thing: family.
“Our mother lived for basketball,” she said. “My sister and I played for our mum, so every tournament, our mum would be in the audience with our entire Rupert family.”
In 2018, Carlick-Pearson found herself having to find something else to play for when Sandra passed away after a battle with brain cancer before the tournament. She said she felt the difference in this year’s tournament, even though the Prince Rupert Rain had battled to an improbable finals appearance.
Normally, Carlick-Pearson would go to her mother’s house with her sister and the rest of their family where they would discuss the game and figure out how to be better for next year. She said losses would hurt that much more because she was playing for her mom.
“This year, we lost and I just hobbled off,” she said. “I took the drain out of my kneecap and I walked off, went to the change room, packed my stuff up and went home.”
Even though part of her inspiration is gone, Carlick-Pearson said she is looking forward to competing again in next year’s tournament. Even though her mother won’t be at the 50-yard line in this year’s tournament, she’ll continue to play in her memory and, as always, for her family.
“My sister and I play for each other now,” she said. “And we’ll continue to do it as long as we can.”