If Isaiah Thomas’s Playoff Performance And Tears Made You “Uncomfortable,” That’s Too Damn Bad

April 17, 2017  |  

Two days after my brother passed away, I went to my senior prom.

Isaiah Thomas charles barkley

Granted, I was no longer excited about going, and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for me to attend, but my mother encouraged me to. Weeks before his death, I had been asked to prom, I bought a gown, I had shoes and even set up an appointment to get my hair done. I was so excited. I pretty much had all my ducks in a row. The Sunday before his death, my brother even said that he was going to come to see me off. And then, on Wednesday, everything changed.

When my sister asked if I was going to go to prom the day after we spent hours crying in our childhood bedroom together, I looked at her very crazy. The idea of me dancing at prom while my parents made arrangements for my brother’s funeral sounded incredibly inappropriate. So I said no. But then, hours later, my mother asked me if I was going to go, and I was even more confused. But as she told me, “You already have everything ready and I know it’s a memory you don’t want to miss out on with your friends.” She drove home the idea that it was something my brother, the consummate party starter, would have wanted me to do.

So on Friday, I called my date back to see if he still wanted to go to prom with me at 8 p.m. I caught a ride to get my hair done. My sister did my makeup and I tried to paint on a smile. From the moment I stepped in the hotel where the prom was taking place, I was nervous. I thought people were going to ask me questions and harp on something I wasn’t ready to speak about. But instead, I was received with a lot of love and people who knew I could use a good laugh and hug. And while I had a good, ugly cry during a slow dance in front of everyone, I ended up enjoying myself. Lord knows I needed it. And despite what anyone may have thought about me being there, I still don’t regret going. Whether I was at home or out in the world surrounded by my friends, I was going to be grieving. Any little light helped — even if just for a few hours.

And that’s what I was reminded of when I heard about the fuss some were making over Boston Celtic’s star Isaiah Thomas’s decision to play a day after learning his sister was killed in a car crash. Charles Barkley, who’s always outspoken, said that watching Thomas cry on camera made him “uncomfortable.”

“I’m not feeling comfortable with him sitting on the sideline crying like that,” Barkley said before the Celtic’s first matchup against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday evening. “That makes me uncomfortable because that tells me he’s not in shape to play. I don’t know how this night is going to turn out. But to be sitting on the sideline a few minutes before the game, crying, that makes me uncomfortable for him. That’s just not a good look, in my personal opinion.”

The Root‘s Stephen A. Crockett Jr. agreed that it was an uncomfortable moment. But he meant it in terms of feeling that Thomas didn’t owe anyone a performance on Sunday.

“He needed to be protected and cared for, and I don’t know what role the pressure of being the best player on a team with a real chance played in this, but he needed an owner or a coach to step in and take that decision away from him so he didn’t have the pressure of feeling like he needed to play,” Crockett wrote. “He should have been held out of the game, if for nothing else, but to keep the cameras from catching him grieving which he’s entitled to do without the eyes of millions watching his pain.”

I don’t think either man meant anything negative by their comments. Even Barkley said playing can be a rewarding experience while handling loss. The issue is that most people believe that raw emotion should only be displayed behind closed doors and that when loss happens, you need to handle your grief in private. I also believe, especially in Barkley’s case, that some believe men shouldn’t allow themselves to be captured and seen in their most vulnerable states. A man crying in public, for some, is just too much. It brings about a “Oh man, he must really be going through it” response, and in turn, folks get “uncomfortable.”

But even if their hearts were in the right place, it wasn’t the most acceptable form of concern to show Thomas right about now. There was seemingly too much thought about what other people should have done (as though he’s not an adult in his right mind) and what his tears made other people feel as opposed to focusing on Thomas. I’m sure that he considered not playing, but as we could see, he felt that leaving it all on the basketball court, win or lose, was better than sitting at home in a state of sorrow. I can say that from experience, that sorrow was waiting for him when he got home last night.

The way people grieve is up to each individual. And while many may choose to handle their pain in private, some choose to try and go back to work, back to their regularly scheduled programs, back to anything cathartic not out of denial, but out of a desperation to feel like their world isn’t crumbling underneath them. Seeing someone cry in public might make people feel “uncomfortable,” but imagine how much more uncomfortable it is to actually grapple with the devastation of the death of your loved one.

Believe me when I say that it’s in those moments where we can do the things that make us feel a sense of peace, that make us laugh or make us think about something else, anything else, that really make all the difference when handling grief. So, if Thomas felt it necessary to reach for a sense of normality by playing with the people he considers his brothers right after losing his sister, the best thing we can do is be supportive of that decision — or just be quiet.

Image via Getty 

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