HOUSTON — It was a sad, emotional day in America when the natural and national inclination was to reach out for someone to hug.
Before the clock ticked off the final seconds of the Rockets’ win over the Celtics, coaches Kevin McHale and Doc Rivers met for a heartfelt embrace. Then Kevin Garnett walked down the length of the court with his head bowed and clamped a ferocious bear hug on McHale.
It was touching. It was real. It especially resonated on a night when so many of us were still searching for answers, or at least a shoulder to cry on.
McHale, of course, suffered an unspeakable loss of his own, the death of his 23-year-old daughter Sasha on Nov. 24 following complications from Lupus. He had taken a leave of absence from his coaching duties for nearly a month before returning to the Rockets last week.
This meeting with the Celtics, the franchise for which he starred and became a Hall of Famer over a 13-year career, was already going to be emotional enough. The ties that bind the Celtics through all the championships is real, indeed.
Then there was Garnett, the long, talented, explosive All-Star and MVP that McHale drafted as a teen-ager when he was general manager of the Timberwolves. They had worked together and grown together for years in Minnesota until Garnett was eventually traded to McHale’s old team in Boston and helped carry on the championship tradition that now binds them doubly.
Garnett plays the game of basketball and life with the style of an exposed nerve end, uncontainable, rarely concealing his feelings. So when he wrapped his arms around his old boss and friend and offered words of consolation and encouragement, tears came from McHale and, as he eventually walked across the court toward the Rockets’ locker room, they continued to flow.
That it happened on an incomprehensibly tragic day for Newtown, Conn. and all of America made it more poignant as one man who’d lost a child became a surrogate for so many grieving parents and relatives and citizens, a fact not lost on Garnett.
“Today’s been a crazy day,” Garnett said. “I just want to say my condolences go to the families that are in Connecticut. Anybody that has kids — a niece, any kind of siblings, someone that they love — it’s just been a tough day. I just want to get it off my chest, man, and say my condolences go out to the parents out there. I (saw) Kevin out there and had an emotional moment with him. It’s been an emotional roller coaster today.”
A time when a father and a nation needed a hug.