OKLAHOMA CITY — One night after receiving a “thank you” text from grieving coach Kevin McHale after their win in Houston, and just hours before James Harden‘s reunion on his old turf Wednesday night, the Houston Rockets stood by their coach in Minnesota to pay their respects at the funeral of McHale’s daughter, Sasha.
“It was tough, from the standpoint of being there with his family, watching them grieve for their daughter, seeing the look in their eyes, everyone tearing up, everyone crying in their family,” Rockets forward Patrick Patterson said. “It was also good for us to be there to support them, and also the NBA allowing us to do such a thing.
“We’re all eternally grateful to the McHale family and what they do for us as a team, so we felt like we had to be there for them, support them, show them that we still care, show them that we still love them.”
Sasha McHale died Saturday after a long battle with lupus, an auto-immune disease. She was 23.
“Just to see our faces, I think it kind of game him some kind of joy, just to show him that we were there,” Harden said. “Our whole, basically, entire organization was there to support him. No matter if it was for five minutes or 30 minutes, he just wanted to see our faces. I’m glad we got that opportunity to go up there and share that moment with him.”
It was a whirlwind 18 hours or so for the Rockets leading up to Wednesday’s tip-off against the Oklahoma City Thunder, leaving some question as to how much gas would be left to play basketball, how much emotion the team would be able to muster — even on such an anticipated night as Harden’s return to face Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the team he was traded from just five days before the start of the season.
The Rockets flew from Houston to Minnesota after Tuesday’s win, arriving around 2 a.m.
“We were back up at eight [o’clock], had a brunch and went for a little scouting report, so we treated this morning like a back-to-back. But, we were all in suits and ties because we were headed to the funeral, and that was very emotional,” acting coach Kelvin Sampson said. “When Kevin and [wife] Lynn saw the team walk in, that was tough. They had a beautiful picture of Sasha and a collage of her baby pictures up to when she was 23 years old.
“That’s tough. I’m a father, I have two beautiful children, and most everybody here is probably fathers, have kids, and you can imagine — maybe you can’t, I can’t — what that’s like.
“Then we got back on the plane. I think we got to Oklahoma City around, I don’t know, two o’clock maybe … and we’ve been at the arena since. We’ll play a game tonight and when the game’s over we’ll fly back to Houston.”
The Rockets wore a green stripe on the shoulder of their home jersey Tuesday and again on their road red jersey Wednesday.
McHale left the team on Nov. 10 to be home with Sasha and his wife. It is uncertain when he will return.
Few words were spoken Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota, but the players said they were glad they could be in the presence of their coach on such a sad and difficult day.
“We wished him and his family the best and let them know that they’re in our thoughts and our prayers every single day,” Patterson said. “It was a time for mourning, a time for everyone to be together and reconnect. There really wasn’t too much talking. There’s not too much you can really say in a situation like that.”