Jalen Brunson’s Family: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Jalen Brunson was born on August 31, 1996, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Sandra and Rick Brunson. Brunson, his younger sister Erica, and their parents moved around a lot due to Rick Brunson’s basketball career, before eventually settling in Lincolnshire, Illinois. The New York Knicks point guard is now engaged to his high school sweetheart Ali Marks.

Here’s what you need to know about Jalen Brunson’s family:

1. Jalen Brunson Grew Up in New Jersey With a Younger Sister Named Erica & He Supported the Knicks When He Was Younger

Brunson spent the beginning of his childhood in New Jersey, where he was exposed to basketball from a young age thanks to his father Rick Brunson’s NBA career, which included stints with the Knicks. In fact, Brunson attended many Knicks games, had a Knicks hoop, and he loved the team growing up, the New York Post reported.

Brunson described joining the Knicks as a “surreal” and “special moment” given his history with the organization. “It’s still like the coolest thing ever,” he shared.

From the age of 2 years old, Brunson was prepping for an NBA career. He’d often follow his father Rick Brunson to Knicks games, playing in the locker room and on the court before games, he shared with the Dallas Morning News. When he had to watch games from home, the younger Brunson would dress in his child’s suit and grab a duffle bag, telling his mother, Sandra Brunson, “Mom, I’m going to my game.” Brunson would then put on his jersey and start playing on a makeshift court he’d created in the house.

Growing up, Brunson was close with his sister Erica, who was four years younger, as well as his parents. She recalled an instance where she wanted to get a reaction out of her older brother but he wouldn’t bite. She told the Dallas Morning News that she’d put “a mountain” of salt and pepper in his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Other times, she’d run into his room when he tried to get to sleep early and she’d turn on the lights and pull off his blankets.

Brunson didn’t give her the reaction she’d been hoping for though. “I just wanted him to get up and do something, retaliate,” Erica Brunson told the publication. “But he would just sit there and wait for me to bring his covers back.”

Brunson’s sister Erica is currently in her last year at Villanova University, her older brother’s alma mater, where she is studying communications with a minor in education. Her LinkedIn states that she will graduate in 2023, and adds that she did a social media internship with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2022.

2. Jalen Brunson’s Father Is Rick Brunson, a 9-Year NBA Veteran Who Played for Several Teams During His Career

Brunson’s father Rick Brunson played in the NBA for nearly a decade, but never stayed with one team for much more than a season. During his NBA career, he played for the Knicks, the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls, to name a few, and his hard work and career really made an impact on his son. The Brunson family moved around a lot because of his career but when he went to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2001-02, his wife and children remained in New Jersey.

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A young Brunson was so hooked on his father’s career and the sport that he’d stay up well past midnight just to be able to talk to his dad on the phone after his West Coast games, he told ESPN. When Brunson Sr. was with the Knicks, Brunson would follow him to the locker room and imitate the players on the team. At the time, the current Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was an assistant coach for the team.

“You have no idea that he’s going to end up being a pro or anything like that, but it was uncanny,” Thibodeau shared. “Everyone would just crack up. He had all their footwork down, jab steps, everything.” Before the 2006-07 season, Rick Brunson learned that the Philadelphia 76ers had decided to cut him. On the drive home, when he told his son his playing career was over, Brunson cried, the Dallas Morning News wrote.

Afterward, he told his son that if he really wanted a career in the NBA, he’d have to work harder than ever before. When Brunson got to seventh grade, he quit all other sports to focus on basketball. His father asked him, “Is this what you want? Do you really want this?” Brunson said yes, and began training with his dad in earnest. It started three times a week before increasing to daily practices, he told the Dallas Morning News.

Throughout his basketball career, including his time in the NBA, Brunson’s father wouldn’t hesitate to call him out. After one game in which Brunson didn’t pass enough to his teammates, his father reamed him out. “None of these people came here to watch you play by yourself. Pass the ball or get out of the gym,” he said, according to Sports Illustrated.

In another instance recounted by the Dallas Morning News, Brunson Sr. texted him after a game, “If you’re not going to compete, man, you’re going to buy me a new TV, because I’m going to throw my shoe through the TV.”

His father was very hard on him, but Brunson made it clear it was his choice to continue with that dynamic. He said his father would tell him, “If you don’t want this, let me know, and I’ll stop,” he told Sports Illustrated. But Brunson always wanted to keep going, and even wrote an essay in school about his dad being his role model.

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3. Rick Brunson Became a Basketball Coach After His Playing Career & Is Now an Assistant Coach for the New York Knicks

In addition to training his son, Rick Brunson also became a basketball assistant coach in the NBA. He was an assistant on Tom Thibodeau’s staff with the Chicago Bulls and with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In 2022, he joined Thibodeau once more as an assistant coach for the Knicks.

The connections to the organization don’t end there, though, as Rick Brunson was a client of Knicks president Leon Rose back with Rose was an agent, and he previously represented the younger Brunson as well. Brunson spilled on the full-circle moment of joining the team he cheered for in his childhood and working with Thibodeau and his father on the podcast “The Old Man And The Three.”

“I’m excited for it because it’s a different level of accountability,” Brunson shared. “They know I’m the type of person who likes to be coached and likes to be pushed… I just know they’re going to push me, try to get the best out of me,” he said but added that they knew it was all based on love and respect.

4. Jalen Brunson’s Mother Is Sandra Brunson, a Former Collegiate Volleyball Star Who Encouraged Her Son to Set Goals

While it’s clear Brunson was inspired by his father to pursue basketball, the Knicks point guard has shared that his mother was just as instrumental in him achieving his goals.

Sandra Brunson, née Davis, and Rick Brunson first met at Temple University, where he played basketball and she played volleyball. According to Sports Illustrated, “Sandra was polished and sophisticated — everything Rick was not.” Sandra Brunson graduated from Temple in 1994 with a bachelor of business administration in business law, her LinkedIn shows.

Sandra Brunson was very encouraging of her son’s dreams, and she taught him how to set goals for himself. When their father was away working as a coach in Charlotte and they lived in Illinois, she didn’t want her son and daughter to focus on his absence. She’d ask her children their goals for the year, she told Slam, and made sure they chose achievable goals.

“I told him, It’s great to have goals and dreams but let’s stick with realistic goals,” she recalled. “What are the things you can really achieve, right now? Let’s not think about down the road, like, Oh, I want to be in the NBA. That’s great. But let’s think about 10th grade. What do you want to do?” Brunson began typing up his goals and putting them up around his room.

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Sandra Brunson also began putting inspirational quotes around the house; on the refrigerator, on mirrors, everywhere. She said she wanted her kids to see the quotes all the time and they’d eventually become ingrained in them. One quote in particular made it all over the house. “They had it on the wall, in my mirror when I woke up,” Brunson told ESPN. “They had it in my lunch bag for school. They just made sure I saw that quote.” The quote? “The magic is in the work.”

Brunson’s father was behind all of his working out and basketball training, but his mother was in charge of the rest, he told WFAA. “She was the general,” he explained. “She held me accountable for everything I did. If I was putting my mind to something I couldn’t quit until it was done. She basically gave me that no-quit mentally.”

In fact, he said his mother is “100 percent” his best friend. “I really do thank you for loving me every single day and being there every single day and allowing me to annoy you every day that I can,” he told his mom via WFAA.

She’d also text him before every game he played, giving him some motivational things to think about and encouraging him to be a leader and focus on his strengths. In fact, she shared with Mavs that she sent Brunson a text before every single game throughout college.

Sandra Brunson is now the co-founder and CFO of Brunson’s charitable initiative, the Second Round Foundation. She also works remotely as a paralegal, her LinkedIn states.

5. Jalen Brunson Is Engaged to His High School Sweetheart Ali Marks, a Physical Therapist

Brunson is engaged to his high school sweetheart, Ali Marks, and posted photos of his September 2022 proposal on Instagram. “Forever,” he captioned one post. As for Marks, she showed some photos of the proposal, which appeared to take place at the Stevenson High School gym.

Marks and Brunson met when he was at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and he posted a throwback photo of the couple from October 2013, when they were both teenagers. The couple pursued a long-distance relationship as they attended different colleges.

In 2017, Brunson wrote to his girlfriend on Instagram, “My best friend thank you for always being there, thank you for visiting me, thank you for always putting up with me, and thank you for always being by my side. It was so sad to see you leave but it’ll only be sweeter the next time i see you 😘.” Marks is a physical therapist who graduated from Northwestern University in 2021.