Eulogy of Dave Debusschere
Geri, Michelle, Peter, Dennis, DeBusschere sisters and family.
Today, Willis asked me to speak for him, for Clyde, Earl and all the Knicks who loved Dave. The moment I heard the news last Wednesday, it was as if a lightning bolt hit my heart. It was so shocking, so unexpected, so final.
When I saw the newspaper stories after Dave's death, one photo caught my eye. It was of Dave driving to the basket, the ball in his left hand, legs sturdy, shoulders strong, shock of dark hair matted with sweat, and a face full of his unique determination. As I looked at it, I was reminded of a time when we were all younger, and there was a magic about life. A magic about life--there is no other way to describe those years on our Knick teams. How it felt to hear the roar of the Garden crowd, to know the satisfaction of a play well-executed, to feel the chills of winning a championship, to share the camaraderie, even brotherhood, of working in an environment of mutual trust, with people you respected, each of whom had the courage to take the last second shot.
Dave's strength, his dedication, his unselfishness, his fierce desire to win, and, above all, his commitment to the team, were all at the core of that success. He seemed to say, ``What's the point of achieving anything in basketball if you can't share it?'' That's the beauty of having teammates. They know what it takes to get through a long season, to recover from a loss, to pull out a win when you're hurt or tired. Dave believed that once good players have put on their uniforms, everything else about them--race, ethnicity, personal history, off-court style--fades into the background. It's time to play--together. And we did.
Dave DeBusschere left all of himself on the court every game. He held nothing back. I can remember those nights on the road in late February. Dave, his face drawn from the long season; and Willis, with his brow furrowed, and heating packs on each knee. They would look at each other in the locker room of the fourth town in five nights, and their glances alone seemed to say, ``I'm tired to my bones. I don't want to go out there, but if you do it, I will too.'' And they always did. Together they set the character tone for the team in a kind of shared leadership that rarely needed words.
If I had $100 for every night Dave played hurt, I could buy a nice car. One night, Dave caught an elbow in the face that broke his nose. The pain was obvious. I didn't see how he was going to play the next night. But, there he was, ready to go, when the buzzer sounded--with a strip of plastic over his nose, held in place by white adhesive tape forming an ``H'' above and below his eyes.
I think the fans loved Dave because they sensed what his teammates already knew: he was the real thing. No pretense. He hated phonies. No guile. He told you exactly how he felt. Nogreediness. I never heard him talk about points. No excuses. He always took responsibility for his mistakes.
Dave was a man of action, not words. He was above the petty things in life, and he wasn't impressed easily. Power, fame, money, were not the currencies he traded in. Friendship, loyalty, hard work, were what he placed the greatest value in. If Bush or Madonna or Rockefeller walked into a bar, I bet he'd barely look up from the beer he was sharing with a friend.
There was a time when I'd slept in a room with Dave DeBusschere more than I had with my wife. We were roommates on the road for six years. That's about 250 games, 250 cities, 250 hotels.
If the truth be told (as Geri knows), on many occasions Dave woke me up with his snoring. I'd say, ``Dave.'' To no avail. I'd shout, ``Dave!'' Still no success. Finally I'd get out of bed, put my hands on his back and push him over on his side. he still wouldn't wake up, but the snoring would stop. And I'd get a few hours of sleep ..... until the next time.
You get to know someone when you're with him that much. You hear about his life; you meet his friends and family; you know what he likes to eat, what he likes to do in his downtime, what forms his daily habits; you learn what he admires in people and what he can't stand.
You can learn a lot of from your roommate, too, especially if he's an experienced pro and you are not. It was my second year in the NBA. I had just made the Knicks starting team as a forward, and we had lost a close one in Philadelphia on a bad pass I made when the Sixers were applying full court pressure. After the game I was dejected. Back at the hotel. Dave, who had joined the team from Detroit two months earlier, saw how I felt and put me straight. ``You can't go through a season like this,'' he said. ``There are too many games, Sure, you blew it tonight, but when it's over, it's over. Let it go. Otherwise you won't be ready to play tomorrow night.'' It was NBA lesson #1; Don't make today's loss the enemy of tomorrow's victory.
On occasion, Dave, Willis and I would go to dinner on the road, and Willis would begin telling hunting stories--what weapons he used, where he used them and what the weather was, how be tracked the animals, what his gear consisted of, the angle at which he shot with his gun, or his bow and arrow, and so forth. Dave and I were not hunters, but once Willis got started, it took him more than a little while to finish. After one such evening when we got back to our room, Dave said, ``You know, I think Willis likes to hunt!''
Dave also was not above practical jokes. Once after a championship season, the DeBusscheres, Kladis's and Bradleys chartered a boat to tour the Greek islands. One day we pulled up off an island beach, and Dave and I dove off the boat to swim ashore. As we were coming out of the water, we found a lone man, laying on a towel. An American. He watched us emerge from the sea, and shouted, ``DeBusschere--Dave DeBusschere. Bradley. Oh my God! Wait til my family sees this!'' and he took off. Dave looked at me; I looked at him, and with a grin he said, ``Let's go.'' We swam back to the boat, hid behind towels and watched as the man, his wife and kids behind him, ran back onto the beach. ``Honest they were here!'' We could hear him shout. ``I saw them! Really! They were here I swear it.''
It's been a long time since the Knicks were champions and I roomed with Dave. But time has only deepened our friendship. I always looked forward to our one-on-one lunches, our dinners with Ernestine and the irrepressible Geri, our family visits to Long Island, and on occasion a game like the one last spring when Willis, Dave, Earl and I went to New Jersey for a Lakers/Nets playoff game with loyalties split between Willis's Nets and Phil's Lakers.
Over the years I commiserated with Dave about the way the Garden treated him when he was G.M. I spoke at Peter's college graduation. I shared the pride that he and Geri felt as Michelle, Peter and Dennis grew into spectacular young adults.
And, I will never forget when he told me how proud he was to be sitting in the gallery the day I was sworn into the Senate. Over the years he made campaign appearances in New Jersey on my behalf, attended fundraisers to add star power, and sloughed through the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire in 2000. Whenever I asked him to do something, he was there; and every place he went, he made people feel good.
Until last Wednesday, one of the most enjoyable things in life was talking basketball with Dave DeBusschere. The players and the teams, the rules and style of play have all changed, but the sharpness of his insights never diminished. What he said was always so clear and simple that I'd ask myself afterwards, ``Why didn't I think of that?''
Championship teams share a moment that few other people know. The overwhelming emotion derives from more than pride. Your devotion to your teammates, the depth of your sense of belonging, is something like blood kinship, but without the complications. Rarely can words express it. In the nonverbal world of basketball, it's like grace and beauty and ease, and it spills into all areas of your life.
So I say to my big brother: Be proud. You brought all these things to the many lives you touched. Goodbye, we'll miss you, #22. May God grant you a peaceful journey.