SAN ANTONIO - Growing up in Rio de Janerio, Erika de Souza admits playing basketball has not only saved her life but also has helped her family overcome poverty.
“I grew up in Brazil in the streets,” Souza said. “Basketball is saving my life because everybody knows in Brazil people don’t have a lot of money, they have a lot of kids and everyone starts working when they are young.”
The San Antonio Stars starting forward-center said she didn’t pick up a basketball until her mother encouraged Souza to use her height and energy for a sport she said she didn’t like all that much.
“I had lots of energy and my mom said, 'Oh my gosh, I need to put my daughter in something,'” Souza said. “My friends got me to go the street to play basketball, but I didn’t like basketball. The ball is so heavy, too much contact, but I didn’t like basketball.”
The 11-year WNBA veteran began her career at the age of 16 playing club basketball in Sao Paulo State, Brazil.
After much success with the new sport, Souza’s agent advised her to make the leap into playing WNBA basketball in the United States.
Despite her agent's confidence, Souza said she was worried she didn’t speak English well enough and was underestimating her skillset compared to the WNBA players.
Souza eventually made the jump to play professional basketball in the United States as she recalls “the best (move) in my life.”
“I came here when I was 19 in 2002, I said “I’m here,” Souza said. “I never imagined playing with Lisa Leslie, Delisha Jones, Mwadi Mabika … Is this real? Yeah, this is for real.”
Souza began her WNBA career with the loaded Los Angeles Sparks and after only playing basketball for three years prior, she helped the Sparks win their second back-to-back championship as a rookie.
“At 19, people (WNBA Players) work, I think five, six, seven years to make a champion(ship),” Souza said. “I don’t speak English, I do not know the players, I do not know nothing but I have the ring.”
With the money she made in her first year and winning the 2002 WNBA Finals, Souza was able to help her mother remodel the home she and her three siblings grew up in.
Souza was also able to purchase a bakery in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro for her family to run as she continued her journey in playing professional basketball.
Six years later, her mother passed away from a long battle with cancer in 2008.
Souza said she’s grateful for her mother’s wisdom of encouraging her to play basketball and doesn’t where her life would be had not been for the sport she once did not like at first.
Basketball has also led the three-time WNBA All-Star to play in three Olympics in 2004 and 2012, with the most recent just last year.
Souza said she knows her mother was looking down on her when she played in front of her family and people at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“I play for Olympic games. I played Olympic Games in my city (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil), (in front of) with my family. I have God with me, they give me an opportunity to come here and help my family,” Souza said.
“Now It’s everything for my life. I’ve helped my family, buy my house … I have my everything. For now, basketball is my life, I can’t see myself in another sport."
Copyright 2017 by KSAT - All rights reserved.