OKC Thunder: The Sorrow Continues

Death be not proud, though some have called thee (John Donne)

Dion Waiters, the starting shooting guard for the Thunder, lost his brother last night. Demetrius Pinckney was slain; really that is all there is to know that has meaning for the extended Waiters family, of which the Thunder are one. But the crime of murder brings with it multiple pillars of exigent investigations, and bold tears. Waiters has left the team for an indefinite period of time, just as Monty Williams has left the team for an indefinite period of time, both men, twenty years apart in age, torch carriers to suffering’s cruel cost, to its grief and emptiness.

Reduce it to the minimum and it is this. One more loss. One more eulogy. One more packed church. One more sad song. One more what if he hadn’t been where he was. One more life isn’t fair. It’s cruelty that gets us. But often, life turns faster than we can catch up to it.

Dion Waiters brother suffered from head injuries, according to a report from the Philadelphia ABC affiiate, WPVI-TV. Pinckney was one of several injuries that resulted from an argument. One wonders though, had Mr. Pinckney not been Waiters brother, would his death made the news, or would it have been one of those familiar stories buried on some back page in some small print that is usually passed over.

Last year, NBA journeyman Wayne Ellington, also from Philadelphia, had to take an indefinite leave of absence too. His father was murdered as he sat in his car at a stoplight. His murderer has since been apprehended and the trial is pending.

On the OKC side of things, one wonders if it is true: bad things come in threes.

First the death of OKC assistant coach Monty Williams wife in a car accident. Then the death of Thunder part-owner Aubrey McClendon in a single car crash, the day after he had been indicted by a grand jury on conspiracy charges. The police noted there had been no attempt by McClendon to stop the vehicle, indicating suicide. And now the death of Dion Waiters brother.

A NBA organization has three components. Players, coaches, owner. In the Thunder hierarchy, all three have suffered a brutal loss individually and collectively as a spiritual community has been thrust into another tailspin The Thunder are broken. There is no other way to say it. This year has been unforgiving and unfair.

If this were any other profession, the loss would create the same open wounds but without the lens of strangers viewing from a distance. There would be privacy and a lot of closed doors. But the Thunder play the Clippers tonight. Sports, if it is one thing over all things, it is performance under stress. There is no greater stress than death.

Of course, you can reflexively immerse yourself in the game tonight, in how big it is, in who is going to possibly stop J.J. Redick who is having a career year scoring the ball. The Thunder’s two-guards are inexperienced and are not Redick’s equal. The Thunder already have faced in the past week three crushing basketball blows, one from the Clippers, two from the Warriors. And now the blow of urban life has seeped into the Thunder bone.

In a year in which it seems everything, just about everything, has gone wrong for the Thunder, their opponent doesn’t really care. Chris Paul is trying to get out of the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. Doc Rivers is trying to put his game 7 2010 NBA Finals loss in the rearview mirror by winning a second title as a coach. Blake Griffin, when he returns, wants atonement. The Clippers are going to try to take advantage of the Thunder tonight. A win means they are tied with the Thunder in the loss column and a possibly avoidance of the Warriors in the second round.

And so perhaps it is true what they say about basketball. It is an escape, a place where the world is not really the world. This world is points and fouls and free throws and bad calls and dunks and layups and crossovers. It’s a world, manufactured as it may be, that lasts a little over two hours. And it is a world that can be controlled. Unlike the real world where the unexpected, the sad, the gut wrenching, often happen when you are not prepared.

They say everyone has a turn.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the man. I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (John Donne)