As anyone who has lost a family member knows, it’s tough, and hits everyone in different ways. Some people don’t want to talk about it, others can’t stop talking. Some bury themselves in work as a distraction, some can’t find the energy to even move.
That universal knowledge would have allowed anyone possessing even an ounce of human empathy to understand if D’Angelo Russell had opted to skip the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday.
Russell found out his grandmother passed away Sunday morning, and told reporters after the game that he had initially wanted to fly home to Louisville before missing a flight as he deliberated whether or not to play.
At the urging of his family members, Russell suited up for the game, and received the best ending possible while trying to play through his pain: hitting a crazy, bouncing buzzer-beater to extend the Lakers’ winning streak to four games:
Russell: "To win the game with a game winning shot, that’s God putting a cherry on top. A win would have been good enough."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) April 10, 2017
More than a win, Russell got a (probably brief) reprieve from his grief, and his relief was obvious as he embraced his family following the shot:
D'Angelo embraces his family after the game-winner, made even more emotional after learning about the passing of his grandma this morning. pic.twitter.com/MfMbUtk5WS— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 10, 2017
“Honestly, I knew that’s what my grandma would have wanted,” Russell said of his decision to play. “My dad, my brothers — everybody wanted me to play. I wanted to get away from basketball.
“I didn’t want to express myself through basketball. But that’s the only option I kind of had, so I tried to take advantage of it.”
It also sounded like he tried to draw on her strength to go to work even in the midst of his pain:
”She was a strong woman,” Russell said. “Like I said, she did a great job of raising my dad. Piggy-backing off that, my dad did a great job raising his sons and his kids in general; being a great father.
“That’s what she was put on this earth for.”
This is where the news part of this post ends.
I normally don’t write in first-person much on this blog, but this was a night I couldn’t bring myself to care about the Lakers’ lottery odds as I watched Russell’s sideline interview with Mike Trudell and his warm hug with his family.
That would normally be the case, but Sunday resonated with me especially because last Thursday I found out I lost my great uncle. He was the closest thing I had to a grandfather, as I lost both of mine before I was born.
When the news hit me, it hit hard. I didn’t want to work, I didn’t want to do anything. I’m also obviously not a professional athlete and need much less energy than Russell, but it’s been hard to write. It’s hard to want to be productive. Why would I want to be creative and make jokes on the internet when one of the biggest influences on my humor was gone?
In the midst of feeling all of that right now, then hearing that Russell is going through the same, and watching how much the brief moment as both Staples Center and his family embraced him, I couldn’t help but imagine how good that must feel.
I couldn’t look past how amazing it must have been have accomplished something and had thousands cheer you, how much energy that has to imbue in him as he tries to overcome what is surely waves and waves of grief.
I’m mostly an objective observer of the Lakers now, but I understand the math. I understand the stakes, and I know how much the Lakers losing their first-round draft pick would suck, for the franchise and their fans.
One feel-good moment doesn’t negate how much that would set them back, and it would be naive to suggest it did.
I just can’t bring myself to care, because losing a draft pick isn’t real loss.
To feel like Russell should be denied that moment of pure jubilation, of feeling like his grandmother was watching over his game one final time, making sure he’d get some brief sense of joy as that ball bounced up and in, just isn’t something I can force myself to do.
I can’t judge anyone who looks past that to try and see the bigger picture, but I also don’t think this specific game, with the Lakers’ riding their young players to such a special victory is the one fans should be mad about, either.