Rockets Head Coach Deals With Tragic Loss

As sports fans, we regularly get caught up in the daily highs and lows of our favorite teams. Each game brings exhilaration with a win, or heartbreak with a loss. Either way, we wait for the next game, the next season, certain that this will be the year we grab the brass ring.

As important as sports is in our culture, we often forget the players and coaches we admire or criticize are real people, just like us. They are not superhuman,. They breathe, eat, and sleep just like us. They have families, and they suffer pain and tragedy, just as we do. When that pain and tragedy strikes, wins and losses in the box score pale in comparison to the loss of a life.

On November 10, Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale announced he was taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with a family matter. No time frame for his absence was given, and no other details were immediately revealed, other than that assistant coach Kelvin Sampson would take over on an interim basis.

The reason for McHale's absence became painfully clear November 24, when it was announced his 23-year-old daughter Alexandra "Sasha" McHale died in Minneapolis after being hospitalized with a condition related to her long struggle with Lupus, an autoimmune disease.

While Sampson described McHale as "distraught" over his loss, he was quick to point out McHale has been in constant touch with the team and following their progress. During Sasha's hospitalization, McHale watched his team's games on a laptop at the hospital, and discussed strategy with Sampson on a daily basis.

Such attention to detail in the midst of a difficult situation has not been lost on the players. To a man, they have expressed admiration that their leader is thinking of their welfare, even while suffering the pain and grief of a lost loved one. While they realize that games must still be played, and life will go on, things won't be the same for McHale and his family from here on out. Guard Jeremy Lin said it best when he told the Houston Chronicle, "obviously, we all care about Coach a lot. To see what he's going through puts perspective into everything that we're really dealing with or working toward."

It's unclear when McHale will officially return to the team, but the Rockets will certainly give him all the time he needs. As fans, we'll continue to cheer and vilify our favorite teams, players and coaches. We'll keep celebrating each win, and pitch a fit after another loss. We'll forget, again, that every athlete, coach, owner, or referee is just doing their job, giving it their best, and that each goes home to his wife and kids, just as we do. But in McHale's case, he now has one less child to come home to. Such a realization should be a sobering reminder that any of us who have loved ones could be next to face grief head-on. At that point, life isn't just a game; it's reality. The real "champions" are those who overcome those losses.

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