During practice Saturday afternoon, Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas received some tragic news — his younger sister, Chyna, had been killed earlier that morning in a car accident.
Despite his grief, Thomas decided to press forward and play in the Celtics' first playoff game Sunday night against the Chicago Bulls.
Before the game, TNT show a clip of an emotional Thomas sitting on sidelines crying hours earlier during the team’s shootaround, something that made TNT analyst and former Sixers great Charles Barkley very uncomfortable.
“I’m not feeling comfortable with him sitting on the sideline crying like that,” Barkley said during Inside the NBA. “That makes me uncomfortable because that tells me he’s not in shape to play.”
It was an odd statement, considering minutes before, Barkley discussed how basketball can be an escape from tragedy. But Barkley continued, adding that he thought it wasn’t a “good look” for the grieving NBA star.
“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,” Barkley continued. “That’s just not a good look, in my personal opinion.”
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 16, 2017
It's hard to imagine that Barkley meant for his comments to come across as harshly as they did to many viewers, who flooded social media with criticism of the Hall of Famer.
Barkley's collegaue, fellow NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, said he experienced a swell of emotions similar to Thomas' when he found out his grandmother had passed away.
“I can’t imagine the pain and grief he’s going through right now,” O’Neal said. “This happened to me one time, not before a playoff game, but before a game, and I couldn’t play.”
O'Neal said he ultimately decided to play, and the two hours he spent on the court that night offered him a brief reprieve from the tragedy he was forced to endure.
“Basketball is our sanctuary. It is our safe place,” O'Neal said.
Despite Barkley’s comments, Thomas played well, leading all scorers with 33 points, with Chyna written next to the laces of his shoes and RIP LiL SiS scribbled near the sole.
“He was incredible,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s an amazing, amazing player. Amazing person. Days won’t get easier for him, but he somehow plays like that.”
It wasn’t Barkley’s finest night. Before the game, the Hall of Famer said the Bulls had “zero chance” to win the game. The Bulls went on to win, 106-102.