Moments before the 76ers ran onto the court to take on the Cavaliers on Monday, Robert Covington received a text message that he wished he hadn’t read.
The message said that a childhood friend of his had been shot to death.
Covington didn’t say anything to his teammates. He didn’t tell his coach. He stayed silent, laced up his sneakers, and decided to fight through the flood of emotions that washed over him. Covington said he thinks that’s what his friend would have wanted.
He said his friend was just 29 years old and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The two met when Covington was in fifth grade and attended high school together in Hillside, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
“We went our different routes. He was into sports law. He had a family that’s left behind,” Covington said after a 113-91 loss to the Cavs. “It’s tough, you know, I’m sad to have him leave this earth. It’s unfortunate. My prayers up to him and his family.”
Covington, 26, described his friend as a big brother figure, someone who was always there to help, even when he couldn’t physically be there.
“He kept my spirits up a lot. He was somebody that always kind of pushed me,” he said. “I hate that I had to find out before the game.”
The news shook Covington and served as a stark reminder that NBA players are just as human as everyone else, and are often asked to perform under extreme stress and in delicate situations.
On the outside, it looked like a cold shooting night from one of the Sixers’ most reliable three-point shooters. The small forward went 0-for-9 on three-pointers and finished with just two points, his lowest scoring output since a loss in Utah on Dec. 29, 2016, when he scored just one point.
For Covington though, the missed shots were just added frustration to his already shaken mental state.
“I tried to play through it for my teammates and everything, but it’s just one of those tough things to deal with,” Covington said. “I tried to stay positive during the game, but all that on top of missing shots, it just messed with my mental.”
After the game, Covington said that his teammates started to notice that something wasn’t right, and that’s when he told them and Brett Brown what had happened.
Now Covington is tasked with trying to grieve in a healthy way and somehow bounce back for another game at home on Wednesday against the Wizards.
“It’s going to be a tough couple days,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to lock myself back in and come back Wednesday with a whole different attitude.”
Covington is also hoping that he is able to attend the funeral. He said that he would talk to his friend’s family to learn the details of the arrangements and that if needed he would take a day off.