Nuggets’ fiery first-rounder Christian Braun got it from his mom: “My competitive spirit came from her”
LAS VEGAS — Lisa Braun doesn’t believe in participation trophies.
That applies to basketball and life.
When her two oldest sons – Parker and Nuggets first-round pick Christian – were in elementary school, she and her husband started a traveling basketball team near Burlington, Kansas, in an effort to promote their boys’ budding hoop dreams.
Lisa, a standout college basketball player at Missouri, had a problem with the early direction of the program.
“At first, me and my husband were going to do it together, and I let him take over, but everybody played, and it wasn’t about winning, and I’m like, ‘That ain’t life,’” Braun told The Denver Post. “I don’t care what age you’re teaching your kid, but not everybody gets a trophy. It’s not the way I wanted to raise my kids. So, he got fired, and I took over.”
Years later, under Lisa’s strict guidance, the team won a national tournament for sixth graders. More than a year younger than Parker, Christian had played “up” on the team and channeled his mom’s feistiness.
“My competitive spirit came from her,” Christian told The Post.
It’s one of the primary reasons the Nuggets targeted the former Jayhawks star, making the 6-foot-6 wing the No. 21 overall pick in last month’s draft. They’d been scouting him for years and relished his size, toughness, versatility and edge.
But where did she get it from?
Lisa was the youngest of seven kids, three of whom went on to play basketball at Missouri. With a military background, her dad was also her high school principal. In other words, no one got away with much.
“I was raised that way, but I wanted my kids to be that way, too, because if you don’t have any fight in you, you don’t go anywhere,” Lisa said.
Christian hated to lose. Family card games, board games and one-on-one games — all activities seemingly immune to interpreting a winner — were up for debate, according to Lisa. Christian earned the nickname “The Lawyer,” because he wouldn’t ever concede. If he lost, he inevitably asked to run it back.
“I was young, but I was ornery, for sure,” Christian said when he was relayed a story about smashing Missouri ornaments from the family Christmas tree, leaving only Jayhawk decorations to dangle.
“I was just a competitive kid. Loved sports from the beginning. Whatever sport it was. It didn’t matter, football, baseball, basketball.”
Lisa admitted she was tough on Christian, perhaps, at times, too tough. On one occasion, she kicked him out of the gym for acting up. After a bad game, according to Christian, it wasn’t rare to “hear it the whole ride home.”
But the tough love had benefits. Christian knew it came from a good place and understood his mother was trying to instill a work ethic in him. After all, Lisa said she harbored resentment looking back at her high school basketball days because her coach was akin to a co-ed gym teacher and may have just been punching a clock.
“I felt like nobody invested in me,” said Lisa, prior to arriving at Missouri and playing under legendary women’s coach Joann Rutherford. “So whenever I had my kids, I went all-in.”
The running joke once Christian fixated on Kansas?
“I always told Coach (Bill) Self, when he recruited me, there was nothing he could say that could throw me off because I’ve heard it from my mom,” Christian said.
At Kansas, Braun was adored for his passion. To the untrained eye, his boisterous barking could come off as arrogant, but both he and his mom bristle at that description.
Heading into a Dec. 11 showdown against Missouri this past season, where his mother, brother, aunt, and uncle all played, Braun told his family he wouldn’t start talking trash until the Jayhawks had a 10-point lead. But when Braun connected on a 3-pointer barely a minute into the game, he couldn’t help but whip an icy glare toward the Tiger bench.
“A lot of people take his actions or whatever, as cocky or being mouthy or chip on his shoulder,” Lisa said. “I think it’s just the love of the game. He gets excited.”
His trademark emotion, evident on aggressive dunks and spotlighted in the national championship game, is raw. And that fire is exactly what the Nuggets were drawn to.
“I love the game,” Braun said. “A lot of it, I think people see, it’s not trash talking. A lot of times, I’m yelling, I’m happy, I’m excited. The game brings a lot of emotions for me. It’s something I love, it’s something I put my all into. I think a lot of times, people see my mouth moving and think it’s talking to somebody else, but a lot of times it’s to a fan. It’s just me showing my passion and energy for the game.”