NATCHITOCHES, LA., JUNE 16 -- The funeral of Joseph Dumars Jr. started with "Battle Hymn of the Republic," a fitting anthem in a small southern town for a man whose death captured the hearts of a nation.
More than 1,500 people jammed the auditorium, television reporters and photographers recorded the event and the line of cars behind the hearse stretched almost a mile.
But the funeral just two days after the Detroit Pistons won their second straight NBA championship wasn't just a media event for the father of Joe Dumars III, Detroit basketball star. It was a family affair.
Ringed by scrub pine forest and rich farmland, cut by the Cane River, Natchitoches is still a small southern town.
Friends and family watched as Joe and his five brothers carried the flag-draped silver casket out of the auditorium.
An old man outside Briggs Feed & Seed took his straw hat off as the funeral procession passed. A woman near the Family Dollar Store stood with her hand over her heart.
"It's a town where everybody knows everybody else," said John Maggio, who operates the store across the street from the Dumars' home.
Pistons Coach Chuck Daly and about a dozen team officials, including General Manager Jack McCloskey, came to the funeral.
"Joe's like a son to me," Daly said. "It's a lot more than just a team. It's family. We all feel a loss."
No players attended the funeral.
"We didn't want it to turn into a big media event. We didn't want to interfere," McCloskey said. "It's so sad. This should be a time for Joe to celebrate."