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MIAMI (AP) — Basketball was secondary on the minds of the Miami Heat players and coaches when they showed up for work Saturday morning.
The elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was the focus.
Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was the primary topic of discussion among the Heat, even though they were gathered to finish prepping for a Saturday night game against Washington.
It’s rare for anything to overshadow basketball on the Heat practice court, but clearly, this was not going to be a typical day.
“Basketball, this is nothing,” Heat forward LeBron James said. “These games are nothing compared to when you have a tragedy like that. It sucks that sometimes you need a tragedy to put things back in perspective, to appreciate what you have. But it does that to people. It’s unfortunate that you have to have something like that to understand what’s really important and some things that aren’t important at all. Family is the No. 1 important thing in life.”
It’s likely that many Heat players and coaches had never heard of Newtown before Friday.
Before the game, in which they beat the Wizards 102-72, the Heat held a moment of silence Saturday night, with many players being accompanied on the court by their children. Chris Bosh held his son, Jackson, tightly against his chest.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has shopped at the Clackamas Town Center, a mall in his native Oregon where a gunman killed two people Tuesday and then himself. One of Dwyane Wade’s nephews was shot last March in Chicago, where gun violence is a major topic of discussion. Ray Allen attended the University of Connecticut, still calls it “my state” and expressed shock as he tried to collect information about Friday’s events.
“It’s still on my mind. I’m really emotional about it. My eyes water up a little bit just thinking about it right now. Your kids are what you live for,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Spoelstra typically comes into the Heat interview room after game-day practices and makes a brief statement about injury situations or what the team worked on that particular day.
He started his remarks Saturday by talking about Newtown, nothing about the Heat or the Wizards.
“We talked about it as a team today and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the community,” Spoelstra said. “Horrific tragedy in Connecticut. We took some time to give our thoughts and prayers to them.
“It’s despicable,” he added. “It’s a horrific tragedy. And it doesn’t matter whether you have family or not or kids or not, you can’t relate to a tragedy like that.”
Spoelstra said he monitored news reports on the Internet until late Friday night. James was getting updated on the day’s events even as the Heat were visiting sick children in a pair of Miami hospitals on Friday afternoon, after which he immediately went home and hugged his own sons, neither of whom is likely old enough to comprehend what took place inside that Newtown school.
“Just having two kids of my own, in elementary, I could not imagine sending them off to school and them not returning,” James said.
Haslem has three sons, and said he tried telling his oldest boy that “things happen in this world that we have no control over.”
He’s all-too-familiar with the grieving process, having lost close friends and relatives over the years. Still, Haslem insisted that he cannot comprehend what the families in Newtown feel, especially with this all happening so close to Christmas.
“You take it one day at a time. You’re never going to forget about it. Time heals the wounds, slowly,” Haslem said. “I still grieve over my friends. I still grieve over my family members I’ve lost. Slowly, slowly, it gets a little bit — not a lot — but a little bit easier.
“We love the money, we love the fame, we love the sport, but at the end of the day, we do this for our kids and the legacy to give them things you never had,” Haslem said. “If it was about us, a lot of us would have retired after our first contract. You do this for your kids. Your kids are everything. My three kids are my heart. I just imagine someone taking my heart away from me. Might as well kill me.”
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)