The tears in David Wesley's bloodshot eyes told the story moments before tipoff. The grieving wasn't over, even if the basketball game was about to begin.
Wesley and the Hornets were in no shape to play tonight, and it showed at the start and at the finish. Playing just three days after the death of teammate Bobby Phills in a car crash, Charlotte lost, 91-79, to the New York Knicks.
Although there were bursts of energy and moments of cohesiveness, the Hornets started slowly and finished poorly in their first time together on a court since the Wednesday morning practice after which Phills was killed.
"There were times when I went to the bench and thought to myself that we really could have used Bobby," teammate Eddie Jones said. "I went in and out like that when I was off the court, but when I was on the court I was concentrating on the game.
"We have the funeral in Baton Rouge on Sunday--that will be tough going through it again--but we'll get through it together. That's just what we have to do."
Wearing black patches with Phills's uniform No. 13 on their shoulders, along with "13 B.P." etched in chalk on their sneakers, the Hornets trailed almost the entire game and lost their seventh straight.
New York started the game with a 19-7 run and locked up the victory with a 13-2 run in the fourth quarter after Charlotte rallied to tie it at 63.
"I'm not going to allow us to wallow in pity and sorrow," Coach Paul Silas said before the game. "We have a job to do."
As much as Silas wanted his team to take the next step toward recovering from its grief, there was no escaping the surreal mood of sadness that hovered around the team.
Phills was killed instantly when he lost control of his speeding Porsche and it crashed head-on into another vehicle. The 30-year-old player left behind a wife and two children, 3 and 1.
Wesley, who was speeding alongside Phills when the crash took place, stood shuffling his feet from side to side with his eyes growing watery as the crowd observed a moment of silence prior to tipoff against the Knicks.
Wesley, who was hugged by Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson of the Knicks just before the jump ball, missed his first two field goal attempts and his first foul shot.
"This is probably the toughest on David out of all of us," teammate Todd Fuller said. "Today he seemed to be doing better. He was talkative and receptive, his old self--at least that's what it looked like on the outside."
As game time neared, however, Wesley exuded the mannerisms of a man in crisis.
As he stood shooting jumpers, missing more than a half-dozen in a row at one point, his blank stare never changed. Rather than jumping when he took his jump shot, his sneakers stayed flat on the floor.
Wesley did not speak with reporters.
Inside the Hornets' locker room, Jones decided that talking was the best medicine.
"I sat in the hotel the whole day thinking about it. There wasn't a better person in this whole league," Jones said. "He was the best person you'd want to meet, I'm serious. Everybody is saying the same thing, so that should tell you that it's not just something we're saying."
Jones also spoke about seeing Phills at practice just before he died, joking with him that he didn't usually see him arrive so early. The two talked about trying to bounce back from a 50-point loss in Milwaukee two nights earlier and trying to put together a nine- or 10-game winning streak.
"And that was the last time I spoke to him."
The Hornets' games Wednesday against Chicago and Friday against New York were postponed.
They planned to fly back to Charlotte after tonight's game, then fly to Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday morning for Phills's funeral.
"This guy was a genuine good-hearted person," Jones said. "When you lose somebody like that, it bothers you. It's very tough. So I knew I had to speak instead of keeping it inside and letting it rip me apart."