The show must go on
Wednesday morning, Isaiah Thomas boarded a plane to Tacoma, Washington with a heavy heart and his team in a hole.
Chyna Thomas died in a single car accident the day the Celtics began a five game series with the Bulls. Teammate Avery Bradley delivered the devastating news to Isaiah at court side, with an arm around the shoulder of his despondent friend who just lost his sister.
During team introductions before game one, a tearful Thomas took his place at center court to a thunderous ovation.
Thomas has played two games in emotional pain. His team is down 0-2 in a 7 game series against the 8th seeded Chicago Bulls.
The Celtics point guard is spent a few days with his family in Washington State before rejoining the team for Game 3 Friday night in Chicago.
Thomas released this statement Thursday:
“I never could have imagined a day where my little sister, Chyna, wouldn’t be here. She and my family are everything to me, so the pain I am feeling right now is impossible to put into words. This has been without question the hardest week of my life.
“At the same time, I have been overwhelmed by the love and support that I have received and couldn’t be more thankful for my friends, family, fans, the city of Boston, Celtics organization, and NBA community. I truly appreciate all of the support you’ve shown me the past several days and thank you for respecting my privacy as I continue to grieve and heal with my loved ones at this time.”
There have been other Boston sports figures who have dealt with the death of a loved one unexpectedly and in full career stride.
On a Saturday night in November of 2005, Bill Belichick’s father Steve Belichick died of heart failure. He was 86.
Belichick was on the sidelines in Foxboro the next morning and coached the Patriots to a 24-17 win over the New Orleans Saints. Belichick’s ability to focus on the task at hand should come as no surprise under any circumstances. After the game Belichick uncharacteristically opened up about the man he most admired.
“Personally, I coached this game with a heavy heart,” he said. “My Dad passed away. I found out about it in the middle of last night. Obviously, he had a tremendous influence on my life personally and, particularly in the football aspect, it was great to be able to share the tremendous memories with him and some of our recent successes, as I did when I was a kid when he was successful as a coach of the Naval Academy and that program.
“Yesterday he did what he enjoyed doing. He went and watched Navy play, watched them win. Some of his former players were there. He had dinner and I spoke with him after the game. And like he normally does Saturday night, sitting around watching college football, and his heart just stopped beating. So I’m sure that’s the way he would have wanted it to end. He went peacefully, which is unusual for him.”
In 1986 both of Neely’s parents were diagnosed with cancer within six months of each other. The young star of the Boston Bruins would lose his mother, Marlene Neely first when she succumbed to colon cancer in 1987. In 1993, Michael Neely died of a brain tumor.
Neely’s career ended prematurely due to injury. After announcing his retirement in a tearful press conference, Neely was able to put hockey into the right perspective.
”After going through what I did with my parents, it would have seemed selfish [to be bitter], Neely told the Boston Globe.
Once cancer came into our family’s life with our parents, it was then that I started to shift most of my charitable efforts to cancer-related causes and that eventually led to The Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care being established in 1995.
With the help of my brother Scott and with the loving support of our sisters Christine and Shaun, we set off on this tremendous journey to help other patients and families cope with cancer by providing comfort, support and hope to them.”
The Red Sox great and Hall of Fame member lost his mother Sue Boggs in June of 1986.
” It was in Yankee Stadium that Boggs found out that his mother had died in a car accident. A public works cement truck, operated by an inmate on work release, ran a red light and smashed into a car driven by the 62-year-old Sue Boggs, who was driving with her mother in Tampa. Wade’s 80-year-old grandmother somehow survived. In the visitors’ training room, getting ready for a game against the Yankees, Boggs got the worst news of his life. “I can still hear that phone ring,” Boggs said, eyes beginning to moisten. “The day before her birthday, and the day after my birthday.”
Professional athletes and coaches perform on a big stage. When they lose a loved one, their grief is for the world to see.
The game must go on no matter how heavy the heart.