by Chris O’Leary / @olearychris
This isn’t a basketball story. It’s not the basketball story you’re expecting, anyway and it’s not the kind of basketball story I imagined writing for SLAM when I grew up reading the magazine.
I know that’s why you’re here and that’s technically why I was at Friday night’s game between the Suns and Jazz, but I don’t want to pretend that there wasn’t something bigger happening on Friday night, or that it isn’t still happening this morning. Given what’s happened, this is the only thing that seemed appropriate to write.
As I write this, over in Newtown, CT, the parents of 20 children are going through their first night as incomplete families. It’s the first night that they’ll do this for the rest of their lives.
This has been a nightmarish, unfair, unkind, soul-crushing day. What’s most unsettling about it is that I don’t see how the days ahead will be any better. As the news broke this morning and the name Adam Lanza became a trigger for nausea, I fell into a loop of sorrow, pain, anger and confusion. It’s 2:10 a.m. and I’m still cycling.
This isn’t the first mass-shooting tragedy we’ve seen and there’s no ranking them, but this one has rattled me in a way that the others weren’t able to. For me, this has hit too close to home. My aunt, my sister, my brother and his wife are teachers. My sister-in-law’s sister and her husband are teachers and so are too many friends of mine to remember them all. I have a 6-year-old niece and another niece and nephew who will be in school in a few more years. Most of my friends have kids that are in school. If it were my niece in that classroom on Friday morning…I can’t finish that thought.
With all of this said, my mind wasn’t on one-on-one matchups or how the Suns were going to deal with Utah’s physicality. I wasn’t alone.
“Turns your stomach. I can’t even watch it,” Randy Foye said before the game started. “Usually I can watch and see a lot of different things and I’m good, you know? But how can you watch that? I was choking up just watching it, and just thinking about the holidays, and you know, kids, man…I can’t even talk about it now, it’s tough.”
The idea of schools being a safe haven was shattered long before Friday, but the image of it being ravaged for a new generation of kids opens the old wound all over again.
“They’re innocent, you know?” Foye said. “They probably thought [the gun] was a toy. For him to do that, if there’s something going on that bad, you do what you’ve got to do. You don’t hurt kids. That’s our future, the future of the world.”
One stall over from Foye, Mo Williams called it a devastating tragedy.
“You can’t make sense of it,” he said. “That’s the hard part. Those parents, those loved ones have to deal with the fact that you can’t make sense of it.”
Williams is right, there’s no sense in any of this. It won’t be found in a note, or in any of the thousands of stories that are written about it in the weeks ahead. What made it all right in this guy’s lost mind to possibly justify going to that school and doing what he did? There are no answers to that question. There never will be. It’s unspeakable evil, carried out in its most painful, merciless fashion.
“It’s sad, man. It’s selfish,” Foye said. “It’s just sad that something like that happened. It hit close to home because I have a five-year-old daughter. For him to do that…he needs to be punished. Someway, somehow, wherever he’s at, no one’s ever forgiving him for that.”
“It hurts. Any time anybody…especially kids, it’s real tragic,” Shannon Brown said. “Obviously, I’ve been to school, I’ve got kids that are in school and you definitely don’t want anything like that to ever, ever, ever happen. It’s a shame.”
Why is this happening? Why can’t we stop it? Gun control and mental health issues in America are a part of the conversation, but globally, we’re not immune to this. It’s happened in Norway.
It’s happened in Canada.
China appeared to have tragedy cornered on Friday morning, before Lanza got out of bed.
“Sick people. Sick people in this world,” Williams said. “There are some sick people.”
As much as you want time to stand still when something tragic happens, it can’t. It never does. Life goes on. It doesn’t feel the same, but it goes on. After a moment of silence before the game, the Suns beat the Jazz and people ran through the hows and whys of the win. Maybe it took people’s minds off of that cycle of sorrow, pain, anger and confusion.
“Basketball is therapy,” Williams said before heading to the court.
I hope it was. I hope that it was for someone.