DALLAS — Stephen Curry looked his coach directly in the eye, accompanied by a firm handshake — no words spoken, the bond formed by these two men didn’t need verbal confirmation.
The Dallas Mavericks’ usually boastful and always heard PA announcer Sean Heath’s voice cracked when calling for a moment of silence before the start of Game 4’s Western Conference final, a rarity even though in-arena commemorations of mass shootings are as commonplace as pyrotechnics and eardrum -blasting music.
It was bound to be anything but an ordinary game, and a fog seemed to be all over American Airlines Center Tuesday night, with the Mavericks staving off elimination and a late run from Golden State Warriors reserves to get on the board in this series with a 119-109win.
Curry wasn’t in the room for Steve Kerr’s impassioned plea for legislation on gun availability, but saw Kerr’s emotional, gut-wrenching challenge to Congress via Twitter and posted it on his account shortly before the game.
Some 350 miles away in Uvalde, closer to San Antonio than Dallas, Robb Elementary School became the latest dot on the United States map — stained with a mass shooting that by midnight Tuesday claimed at least 21 lives.
“I appreciate his leadership. It’s on everybody’s mind coming into the game,” Curry said. “It’s kinda hard to stay focused on playing basketball. It happened in this state. I got kids, take them to school every day, drop them off.”
And he expects them to come home safely, every day.
The pattern is unfortunate but familiar, one that Curry’s brother-in-law and teammate Damion Lee alluded to moments later — awaking from a nap and checking Twitter, only to find out about yet another school shooting. then checking with teammates on the bus ride over to the arena, comparing notes and information.
By the time the game ended, it’s damn near impossible to open any social media app and not see an unfamiliar face but an innocent one — perhaps a child with a long caption behind it, or a teacher who perished in the attempt to save lives.
The notion is as clear as it is unavoidable, and the fear is usually not far behind the initial shock.
“It’s just sad. You saw Steve’s pregame press. Those are my exact same feelings,” Lee said. “It’s sad the world we live in. We need to reform that. It’s easier to get a gun than baby formula. It’s unbelievable.”
Lee used air quotes when saying “the greatest country in the world,” a common trope used to contextualize or disingenuously provide comfort to grieving citizens whose only power is to express the rage and sadness on social media.
“Since we left shootaround, 14 children were killed 400 miles from here, and a teacher,” Kerr said hours before. “In the last 10 days, we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California, now we have children murdered at school.
“When are we going to do something? I’m tired. I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m so tired. Excusez moi. I’m sorry. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough.”
Kerr called out senators by name, speaking from his own personal experience of his father, Malcolm Kerr, being assassinated in Beirut when the now-Warriors coach was a star athlete at Arizona.
“Every word he said was powerful, was meaningful,” Curry said. “I accept that challenge, try to figure out ways to use my platform to make change. You can tell what it meant to him, to get on the microphone to say what he said. I appreciate his leadership.”
There didn’t appear to be any thought from the NBA to postpone the game, in part because postponements would take the season to August before a finish, sadly, and so the game went on.
It would be unfair to attribute the outcome to the day’s events, because the Mavericks do what they’ve always done when facing elimination in these playoffs — make everything. Luka Doncic didn’t have a superhuman night, but didn’t need to, with 30 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists on a sub-40% night.
The Warriors haven’t been great at closeout games this playoff run — including the thumper at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies with the Warriors falling behind by 50.
No such derision was to be found here, with the starters being ineffective after the first quarter and largely taking the loss in stride. They led 16-13 and never again, barely registering as competitive until Golden State rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody infused the game with a jolt of energy.
A 29-point lead fell to eight with the kids showing a glimpse of what they can do when given some playing time, neither looking too fazed by the playoff atmosphere. Kuminga scored 17 with eight rebounds and Moody 10, hitting some corner threes that could prove useful later.
“It’s great, they had an opportunity to go out there and make their presence felt, affect the game,” Curry said. “Build some confidence and some experience in this series and what it feels like to be out there.”
The most sobering stat of all is this: Curry was still a talented unknown dealing with ankle problems, Kuminga was four years away from moving to the states and Moody wasn’t yet in middle school when this gun control discussion reached an inflection point at Sandy Hook in Connecticut in December 2012, when children as young as 6 years old were gunned down.
The issue is no closer to conclusion now than it was then, hence Kerr’s anger as he pounded the desk in pregame, frustrated and angry.
The two teams played and engaged Tuesday, which is more than what anyone can say for the people in power.