His face solemn and his eyes dark, Kevin Durant stands next to me, gesturing and squinting and shuddering, constantly repeating this process, as if trying to shake away unwelcome reality.
“I just wish I could have run into him again. Know what I’m saying?” Durant told me in a recent conversation. “I mean . . . I met him, but I know him mostly through his music and what he was doing in the community. He was just genuine. I wish I had the opportunity to just give him another hug or dap him up again. Anything. Because he was so real.”
This was a few days ago, and Durant is not alone. Not in the NBA. Not this month.
Plenty of grown millionaires are grieving the loss of influential rapper/entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle.
“All the (expletive) he went through growing up and to come out and make the kind of impact he was making is . . . what could be bad about that?” Durant says.
Durant and many other American athletes, particularly those in the NBA, have spent much of the past 11 days trying to collect themselves in the wake of the senseless murder of Hussle (born Ermias Joseph Asghedom) that occurred March 31 in Los Angeles. He was 33.
When Nipsey is buried Thursday in Los Angeles, hundreds of NBA players will be there in spirit. A considerable number will be there in person. That’s how much he meant.
Nipsey’s death in Los Angeles took away a brother, a friend, someone universally admired. DJ Sharp, the turntable whiz at Oracle Arena, made sure to spin Nipsey’s beats that night. Upon recognizing it during a timeout, Warriors teammates Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston and Durant responded with a spontaneous dance as a way of paying respects.
The word spread, the reaction grew and players around the NBA did plenty to keep Nipsey in the news, express what he meant to them and how he had touched their lives.
Asked about Nipsey on the night of his death, Steph Curry, sitting at the podium, struggled to slide his response around the lump in his throat. They were friends. Brothers. Look it up.
The Los Angeles Clippers produced a pregame video tribute to Nipsey and played it at Staples Center just hours after his death. Moreover, they placed a pair of shoes next to a jersey – “Hussle” – in a stall between those of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell in their locker room.
Harrell said he wished he could have worn it on the court during the game.
Two nights after Nipsey was shot and killed, Russell Westbrook went out and posted the first 20-20-20 (points, rebounds, assists) game in the league in more than a half century. The last player to achieve the feat was Wilt Chamberlain in 1968. Russ and Nip? Brothers.
Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith responded by adding a textured tattoo of Nipsey in profile. Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie ordered a pair of customized shoes featuring Nipsey that are up for auction this week, with the revenue being donated to charity.
“He was everything to us,” former Warriors star Baron Davis said on TNT.
“He meant everything to me,” Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas told The Undefeated.
The bond between musicians and athletes is as strong as it has ever been. But the bond with Nipsey was more intense than that. His upbringing was like many of theirs. His evolution from at-risk teenager to successful corporation, from selling his own mixtapes to being nominated for a Grammy, is much like many of theirs.
Their quest to build better communities in an effort to serve people of color was Nipsey’s quest.
“Through his music and interviews, you hear where he came from,” says Warriors forward Alfonzo McKinnie. “You hear how he made it out and how he transformed from being that ‘hood person,' the gangbanger that he was back in the day, to a businessman and entrepreneur. He was uplifting the kids and the culture in general. That’s why (his death) hit so many people.”
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And now he’s gone. A celebration of Nipsey’s life will be held at Staples Center, with the funeral procession winding through the streets of South Central en route to a funeral home in his beloved Crenshaw neighborhood.
The NBA mourns and will for a while. And some will be compelled to step even further forward and take action in ways that would have made Nipsey Hussle proud.