MY STORY - Ellen Nyström
When I think of Swedish Basketball, ever since I was a kid, there's two teams that stands out. Plannja and Alvik. Plannja was this strangely named team from Luleå, but there was also a lot of construction cars in Stockholm driving around with Plannja on them. Then someone told me they were the sponsors for a club in Luleå.
Luleå has two professional teams, one team in each of SBL Dam and Herr, and both has been top clubs more or less since always in my world. I've always heard players speak highly about the professionalism and the culture up in the north. And the women's team has been a dominant force for some time now. During the offseason people always say "yeah, it'll be Luleå and..." when talking about contenders. This year, it's no difference. Luleå has been on a tear all year. And it has a lot to do with Ellen Nyström.
I got to know Ellen two years ago, when I was working with Chioma Nnamaka who was the team captain for Luleå Basket. Ellen was one of the teams key players and together with Allis Nyström, Josefine Vesterberg, Chioma and fellow Solesquad member Matilda Ekh they formed a starting five with ton of experience and accolades. And if you thought that was the squad, add former WNBA sharpshooter Maggie Lucas to the mix midseason, and you'll think again. But there's no fluke why Ellen was asked to be the team captain when Chioma retired.
Ellen started to play basketball at the age of 5. Her mother, a former hooper started a team in the local club called Höken. Her mother, Lena, was a great basketball player and her dad Leif was a member of the Swedish National team. And Plannja, what are the odds? Ellen's older brother was also a great promising player as a youth player, making National teams and playing basketball at Hope College in Michigan. So Ellen started her career at the small local gym at Furuparksskolan. When I asked her about that gym, she said she wasn't sure if it had a three point line, but if it did, it would've crossed each other, since it was that small.
Together with future Luleå Basket teammates Allis and Josefine, Ellen took their small local team all the way to the National Finals for U16 and took home the gold. After that all of them got more attention and were soon members on different Youth National teams. As she played highschool basketball at RIG Luleå, she also started to play professionally for Luleå Basket her last year, while also being a member of the U20 National team. Talk about making noise, right? After coming up short in the finals in SBL Dam, she committed to play basketball at Colorado State University, in the Mountain West Conference.
Her accolades at college is maybe the first things I heard about Ellen. That's my first memory of her name, that she had a great run in college. And when I asked her, she was way too humble about it, I more or less had to drag it out of her. If I was named All-MWC co Freshman of the Year, two time All-MWC Player of the Year and College Female Athlete of the Year by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, I can guarantee you I'd be the first to tell you. Hey, I might've even introduced myself just like that. But not Ellen, that's not her character. All she said was, "I loved college, it was great.". Oh, and then she became the first player ever to record a triple-double at Colorado State. Female or male.
After she graduated in 2017, she signed in Spain and played three years for IDK Gipuzkoa Donosti Basket in the Basque. And when Covid shut the league down in 2020, she moved back north, all the way up to snowy Luleå.
And that's how I met her (Ted Mosby voice). That 2020-21 year was one for the history books, as Luleå became the first team to win after being down 0-2 in the Finals. I remember Game 2 up in Luleå, when there was still restrictions and only a small amount of people was allowed in the stands, her dad was one of them. He was the proudest one in the small group with drums, and even if that game 2 looked like it was about to be the biggest failure, she still walked off the court holding her head high. So when they did turn things around and winning three straight, I know it meant a lot to her.
As Luleå celebrated on the court with Captain Chioma cutting down the net, I noticed how league MVP Klara Lundqvist was standing alone with SVT crying. "Where the hell are her teammates?" was all I could think of. There's a time and place. I'll come back to that in a minute. Let's embrace the fact that the three friends from a small U16 team were celebrating as teammates of the National Champions. That's a story to tell.
Last year, Luleå was dominating the regular season, winning some games by more than 50 points. I was just waiting for them to be back in the Finals, and just like that, they were facing Norrköping for the gold. As I was doing some productions from the Finals I was in Norrköping for Game 4, a win-or-go-home game for Luleå as they were down 2-1. Norrköping won, and Luleå fell short of a three-peat and what happened after the buzzer triggered both celebrations and tears, showed me one thing about Ellen. She's a class act. I always feel uncomfortable when I'm working with a player and they lose, because I feel like whatever I'm doing or saying, it'll be the wrong thing. So as I tried to sneak out, all of a sudden Ellen comes walking holding a crying teammate and as SVT demanded an interview from her, Ellen told her to go to the locker room and took her place. And all I could think about was Klara standing alone with no veteran teammate to tell the reporter to give her a minute or two. The interview was over and done in less than a minute, and then it was just the two of us in the tunnel. I hesitated to say anything, and she just looked at me and said "there's a time and place, right?" and nodded towards the reporter who just left. As we stood there i could tell that this loss was tough, but Ellen is not that kind of person to look back, and next season Luleå would be all business. Again. And it has everything to do with Ellen.