DALLAS — Stephen Curry looked his coach straight in the eye, accompanied by a firm handshake — no words were spoken, the bond these two men formed needed no verbal confirmation.
The Dallas Mavericks’ normally boastful and always boastful voice, Sean Heath, heard the voice of PA announcer Sean Heath when he called for a minute’s silence before the start of the Western Conference Finals in Game 4, a rarity despite commemorations of mass shootings in the Arena are as commonplace as pyrotechnics and eardrum-busting music.
It had to be anything but an ordinary game, and a fog seemed to hang over the American Airlines Center on Tuesday night as the Mavericks fended off elimination and a late run from the reserves of the Golden State Warriors to go with one on the Board to come 119-109 win.
Curry wasn’t in the room for Steve Kerr’s impassioned plea for gun availability legislation, but saw Kerr’s emotional, heartbreaking challenge to Congress via Twitter and posted it to his account just before the game.
About 350 miles away in Uvalde, closer to San Antonio than Dallas, Robb Elementary School became the newest spot on the map of the United States – stained by a mass shooting that claimed at least 21 lives at midnight Tuesday.
“I appreciate his leadership. It’s all the talk of getting into the game,” Curry said. “It’s pretty hard to focus on playing basketball. It happened in this state. I have children, take them to school every day and drop them off.”
And he expects them to get home safely every day.
The pattern is unfortunate but familiar, one Curry’s brother-in-law and teammate Damion Lee alluded to moments later – waking from a nap and checking Twitter only to learn of another school shooting. then consulted with teammates on the bus ride to the arena, exchanging notes and information.
When the game is over, it’s almost impossible to open a social media app and see not an unfamiliar face but an innocent one — maybe a kid with a long caption behind it, or a teacher trying to make life better save, died.
The idea is as clear as it is inevitable, and the fear usually doesn’t lag far behind the initial shock.
“It’s just sad. You saw Steve’s presser before the game. Those are my exact same feelings,” Lee said. “It’s sad the world we live in. We have to reform that. It’s easier to get a gun than baby food. It’s incredible.”
Lee used aerial quotes when he said “the greatest country in the world,” a common phrase used to contextualize or offer disingenuous comfort to grieving citizens whose only power is to channel the anger and sadness on social media express.
“Since we stopped shooting, 14 children and a teacher have been killed 400 miles from here,” Kerr said hours earlier. “In the last 10 days we’ve killed elderly black people in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve killed Asian churchgoers in Southern California, now we have children murdered at school.
“When do we do what? I am tired. I’m so tired of standing up here and offering my condolences to the devastated families out there. I’m so tired. Forgiveness. I am sorry. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough.”
Calling out the senators by name, Kerr spoke from his own personal experience of his father, Malcolm Kerr, who was murdered in Beirut when the current Warriors coach was a star athlete in Arizona.
“Every word he said was powerful and meaningful,” Curry said. “I accept this challenge, trying to find ways how I can use my platform to create change. You can tell what it meant to him to step up to the mic to say what he said. I appreciate his leadership.”
The NBA didn’t seem to be thinking about postponing the game, in part because postponements would last the season through August before sadly coming to an end, and so the game went on.
It would be unfair to attribute the result to the day’s events because the Mavericks are doing what they’ve always done when eliminated in these playoffs – doing everything. Luka Doncic didn’t have a superhuman night, but he didn’t need to either, posting 30 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists in a night under 40%.
The Warriors haven’t been great at closeout games this playoff run — including the thumper against the Memphis Grizzlies, which saw the Warriors fall 50 behind.
No such mockery was to be found here, as the starters were ineffective after the first quarter and largely accepted the loss. Leading 16-13 and never again, they barely registered as competitive until Golden State rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody infused the game with a burst of energy.
A 29-point lead fell to eight, with the kids showing a taste of what they can do when they have some playing time, and neither seemed too troubled by the playoff atmosphere. Kuminga had 17 with eight rebounds and Moody had 10, hitting some corner threes that might come in handy later.
“It’s great, they had the opportunity to go out there and make an impact, to influence the game,” Curry said. “Build some confidence and experience in this series and experience what it feels like to be out there.”
The most sobering statistic of all is this: Curry was still a talented stranger to dealing with ankle problems, Kuminga was four years away from moving to the States, and Moody wasn’t even in middle school when this gun control discussion at Sandy brought up one Hook’s turning point in Connecticut came in December 2012, when children as young as 6 were shot dead.
The issue is no closer to the end now than it was then, hence Kerr’s anger as he banged on his desk in frustration and anger in pregame.
The two teams played and engaged on Tuesday, which is more than can be said of those in power.