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Meet the mother of the only NBA-NHL brother tandem



The Athletic

On January 9, Tonja Stelly had to be in two places at once. That’s nothing new for her. It’s become a tradition anytime over the past three years the NBA and NHL schedules collide in just the right way.

The Knicks played the Portland Trail Blazers that Tuesday in the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden. Her son Quentin Grimes, then a guard for the Knicks and currently with the Detroit Pistons, received a tip at 7:30 p.m. Twenty miles to the east, her son Tyler Myers, a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks, was simultaneously playing a game against the New York Islanders in Elmont, N.Y.

So Tonja and her husband Ken, along with her brother and his family, boarded a flight from Texas to New York. Tonja and Ken went to the UBS Arena to watch Tyler, craning their necks for two hours between the action in front of them and the cell phone on her lap showing the Knicks game. Her brother and his family did the same at MSG, with the sounds of a basketball kissing the hardwood and the Canucks-Islanders game on a small screen in front of them.

“Of course the people sitting around us said, ‘Wow! You really like sports,’” Tonja said. “We were like, ‘Yes, yes we are.’”

Everyone knows Donna Kelce, the mother of NFL players Travis and Jason Kelce. Most people know Sonya Curry, the mother of NBA players Stephen and Seth Curry. However, very few are familiar with Tonja Stelly, the mother of the only NBA-NHL brother tandem in history.

She is a sports mom and former athlete herself, having played basketball at Fort Hays State University in her home state of Kansas. Quentin and Tyler are her only children, and from October to April she travels the country, bouncing between packed basketball arenas and frigid hockey arenas to watch them compete.

She gave birth to both in Houston, 10 years apart – Tyler on February 1, 1990 and Quentin on May 8, 2000 – but they have different fathers. As a result, they grew up apart in separate households and only saw each other a few times a year, if that.

“I was like a single child,” Quentin said, recalling his upbringing.

Three months after Quentin’s birth, Tyler moved to Calgary with his father, Paul, who was in the oil and gas industry, and that’s where hockey took hold. He had already started playing the sport in Texas – around the age of seven – but the ubiquity of the sport in Canada helped him delve deeper into the game, which put him on the path to the NHL.

In the summers, and sometimes during spring break, Tyler would travel back to Texas to spend time with his mother and little brother. Tonja took them out to play tennis or basketball, swimming or cycling. Every year they took a 22-hour drive to visit Tonja’s side of the family in Kansas. She did everything she could to make sure her sons had a relationship, even though they essentially lived a country away from each other.

(Photos courtesy of Tonja Stelly)

“It was really hard when you only have six to eight weeks in the summer to get that done,” she said. “But we would do things as a family and individually.”

Things like letting them play video games together and take turns deciding where to eat.

“They chose different things, namely that Quentin was four and five and Tyler was fourteen and fifteen,” she said.

As Tyler entered his teenage years, the demands of junior hockey kept him away longer. But Tonja and Quentin ventured to Kelowna, B.C., to watch him play in the juniors and did the same when he broke into the NHL. Quentin was 8 when the Buffalo Sabers selected Tyler 12th overall in the 2008 NHL Draft. At 6-foot-1, he became one of the tallest players in NHL history and quickly made an impact for the Sabres, who made the playoffs his rookie season. Shortly after Quentin turned ten, Tyler won the Calder Trophy for the league’s best rookie. He finished in the top 20 for the Norris Trophy, which honors the league’s best all-around defenseman, in each of his first two seasons.

The Sabres’ playoff series furthered Quentin’s appreciation for the sport, not just because of his involvement with it through Tyler.

“I remember seeing that atmosphere, and I think I was more interested than the average Texan watching hockey,” he said. “I tell people all the time, I don’t think there’s a better atmosphere in playoff hockey: banging on the glass, pushing, shoving, hip checking, it’s super fast, people are throwing things on the ice. They don’t do that at a basketball game.” (Well, unless it’s Jamal Murray, but we digress.)

Around age 9, Quentin started playing AAU basketball, and like his older brother, he quickly stood out among his peers. In high school, it became clear that he would follow in the footsteps of his basketball-playing parents. Tonja Nuss was a 5-10 guard on the 1985-86 Fort Hays team that went 18-12. His father, Marshall Grimes, was a 6-foot-4 guard for Santa Clara and Louisiana-Lafayette in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A five-star recruit, Quentin initially played at Kansas before transferring to Houston after his freshman season. There he became the leading scorer for the Cougars’ 2021 Final Four team, which led to him being selected 25th overall by the Knicks in the NBA Draft.

Only a limited number of people know what it takes to be a professional athlete. And luckily for Quentin, his brother is one of them. Tyler could talk about how to train like a professional athlete, and how to eat like a professional athlete. But he also wanted to let Quentin “chart his own path.”

“As an athlete, I know I don’t want to bombard him with too much advice or too much that could overwhelm him, but I will definitely throw little things at him here and there,” Tyler said. “Last month I was reading this book and I told him what it was all about and told him to check it out. Just little things like those here and there that I think can help him, and everything that I’ve experienced along the way.

The NBA and NHL schedules don’t overlap in a convenient way for Tyler and Quentin to watch each other play live. “We have to keep an eye on each other from a distance,” Tyler said.

But Quentin playing in New York to start his career helped as the Canucks meandered across town to play the Rangers, Islanders and Devils in succession. Tyler attended one of Quentin’s home games a few years ago, and they had a few dinners together.

“Watching them grow up and find their path, especially since Tyler was gone at such a young age, it’s really special to see that come full circle back to them as adults,” Tonja said as she fought back tears . “Pretty special.”

(Photos courtesy of Tonja Stelly)

Speaking by phone earlier this week, Tyler was already excited that his mother and brother would be coming to Vancouver this week for the Canucks’ second-round playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers.

Just as exciting in the days leading up to Mother’s Day, Quentin will meet Tyler’s three children (Tristan, Skylar and Tatum) for the first time.

“It’s going to be great,” Tyler said before the visit. “The kids will meet their uncle, and it will be great for them to connect.”

For Tonja, who has helped raise two boys with different cultural backgrounds, interests and upbringings: “It’s a pretty special weekend.”

What’s more special?

Well, Quentin has one year left on his contract with the Pistons for $4.2 million and could potentially re-sign long term. Tyler is bringing in $6 million this season and will become a free agent on July 1.

There should be a lot to line up, but it’s very tempting to wonder if Tonja’s sons could one day call the same arena and the same city their home. After all, the Detroit Red Wings could potentially be in the market for a right-handed defenseman this summer.

“I think they could use one too,” Tonja said, laughing. “That would be so great.”

(Photo illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletics; photos courtesy of Tonja Stelly)