New Utah Jazz center Francisco Elson plays to honor late brother

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 6 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

New Utah Jazz center Francisco Elson, being interviewed at the team's media day, says he plays for his older brother who died on a basketball court at the age of 21.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Francisco Elson stuffs himself into a gray plastic chair, and before he can get comfortable his heart pours out.

Basketball, he explains, is an outlet.

The Jazz's newest big man plays not for the glory, or the riches, or even the satisfaction that comes with winning a ring.

It's for one reason, and one only: to honor the memory of his late brother, Patrick.

"I'm not saying I'm an awesome player, or I'm the best player, or I'm good at this, I'm good at that," Elson says. "No. It's just my dedication to him, showing I can play.

"It might not be to the ultimate level, like some of the stars in the NBA. But I'm gonna try, and go out there and compete.

"And him looking over me — that's all that matters. I don't really care what everybody else says, or everybody else thinks," adds Elson, who for reasons quite understandable didn't begin playing in earnest until he was 17 years old. "It's just me, out there on my own, doing my own thing and not listening to anybody. Because when I'm on the court, I have one thing in my mind — and it's just satisfying him."

Patrick Elson was 21 when he died of a heart attack — on a basketball court.

Francisco Marinho Robby Elson remembers the day like it was last week.

He was 13, at home with his tight-knit family in the Netherlands port city of Rotterdam.

Patrick was with his local club team, and there was no reason to suspect what was about to come. He was athletic, well-fed and — as far as anyone could tell — the picture of health.

And then he passed.

"He was playing a game, and he collapsed," Elson said.

"We got a phone call saying that something is not right. So we tried to rush over there, and by the time we got there they took him to the hospital and he was gone."

Like so many pre-teens, Francisco — his parents originally are from the former Dutch colony of Suriname, in South America — dabbled in this sport and that.

Both his father and a younger brother played soccer, but none of it, especially not basketball, meant too much to him.

"I was more into karate, and soccer, and having fun on the streets, and playing," Elson said. "But doing something serious? Even if (Patrick) hit me upside the head, I wouldn't be serious, you know?"

At the time of Patrick's passing, Francisco was just beginning to understand — and appreciate — his brother's passion. He played some outdoor hoops, and occasionally showed up for a formal club practice.

Yet when Patrick was asked if that was his little brother, he responded, " 'Yeah, but he doesn't want to play.' "

Patrick, however, sensed something.

Rather than push his brother prematurely into a direction he didn't want to go, though, he said nothing to Francisco.

But he did tell someone, and she held the thought tight for four years or so.

Following the tragedy, Orsine Williams Elson didn't want Francisco to have anything to do with organized sports or excessive exertion.

"The kids on the street used to always say, 'Let's go out and play, let's go out and play,'" Elson said.

All too often the answer was, "No."

On the rare occasions Francisco was allowed to join in, he could not shake clues as to why his mother felt so protective.

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