The moment I heard of Dave DeBusschere's death it was as if a lightning bolt hit my heart. In the next day's papers, one photo caught my eye: Dave driving to the basket, the ball in his left hand, shock of dark hair matted with sweat and a face full of his unique determination. It reminded me of a time when we were all younger and there was a magic about life.
There is no other way to describe those years on our Knicks teams. How it felt to hear the roar of the Garden crowd, to know the satisfaction of a play well-executed, to feel the chills of winning a championship, to share the brotherhood of working in an environment of mutual trust, with people you respect, each of whom has the courage to take the last-second shot.
Dave left all of himself on the court every game. He held nothing back Once he caught an elbow in the face that broke his nose. The pain was obvious. I didn't see how he would play the next night. But there he was when the buzzer sounded—with a strip of plastic over his nose and adhesive tape forming an H above and below his eyes to hold it in place.
Dave and I were roommates for six years, and he taught me a lot. In my second year in the NBA, we lost a close one in Philadelphia on a bad pass I made when the Sixers were applying full-court pressure. I was dejected. Dave put me straight: "You can't go through a season like this. There are too many games. You blew it tonight, but when it's over, it's over. Let it go, or you won't be ready to play tomorrow." It was NBA lesson No. 1: Don't make today's loss the enemy of tomorrow's victory.
He wasn't always serious. One summer his family and mine chartered a boat to tour the Greek islands. We pulled up off a beach, and Dave and I swam ashore. As we were coming out of the water, we saw a lone man lying on a towel: an American. He looked at us and shouted, " DeBusschere! Bradley! Oh, my God! Wait till my family sees this!" and took off. Dave just smiled and said, "Let's go." We swam back to the boat and watched as the man, his wife and kids ran back onto the beach. "Honest, they were here!" we could hear him shout. "I swear it!"
Championship teams share a moment few others know. The overwhelming emotion derives from more than pride. Your devotion to your teammates, the depth of your sense of belonging, is like blood kinship but without the complications. In the nonverbal world of basketball, it's like grace and beauty and ease, and it spills into all areas of your life.
So I say, brother, goodbye; well miss you, number 22. May God grant you a peaceful journey.