There's a time for basketball, and there's a time for bigger things.
So it was that after a morning session at HSS Training Center on the fourth day of training camp Friday, the Brooklyn Nets put the balls away and boarded buses for a short trip through the tunnel into Manhattan to visit the National September 11 Memorial Museum.
"Some of these guys are so young they probably don’t remember it like older guys," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson after practice. "I think we play in the city of New York, we work here, we live here, so I think for us to get an understanding of the history, what went on from a New York perspective, a United States of America perspective, global perspective, if affected all of us. I think we’re going to learn a lot about history today. Unfortunately it’s an emotional history. And I think it’ll be emotional, I think it’ll be a great learning chance. I don’t think these guys know what to expect. I’ve been there, so I know how emotional I was."
Atkinson and his players were joined by assistant coaches and team staff on the visit which began on the plaza as the team circled around the Survivor Tree to hear the story of the pear tree that was discovered burned and broken at the site, only to be preserved and returned to the memorial in 2010. Atkinson and Caris LeVert placed flowers among the tree's branches.
"It's humbling," said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. "It's scary also. You never know what could happen. You never know when your time is. It's definitely an eye-opener to cherish every moment, seize every moment. You've also got to think about putting yourself in other people's shoes, the people that are family members, the victims, and those things. It's tragic. It's hard to think about."
They all brought their own perspective to the visit. Atkinson, a Long Island native, had yet to depart for his eighth season playing pro basketball abroad and was in the New York area. His brother had a meeting scheduled for the World Trade Center later that morning and was on the way when the planes struck before he got a call from his wife not to continue. Kenneth Faried was an 11-year-old in Newark who watched the second plane hit the towers.
Jared Dudley, the oldest player on the Nets' roster, was just 16 at the time. For many of the players, 9/11 is a historical event, one they don't remember, but learned about later in school. Hollis-Jefferson, for example, was six years old. Six other players on the visit yesterday were even younger.
They walked past the reflecting pool memorial in the footprint of the south tower and descended down into the museum for a tour to learn more about the history of the day. They passed the Trident, the piece of the towers' frame that the museum was built around; the missing posters projected on the wall; the Survivors' Stairs; the fire truck from Ladder 3; and the Last Column.
Which stories stuck with them?
"The people that were coming here to help," said Hollis-Jefferson. "People that were off that came in to be part of something bigger than themselves. That's something big, and I feel like more people should understand that. It wasn't just about, let me try to be a hero. This was, you could lose your life. You put your life on the line to save other people. That shows a different side of people that a lot of people don't get to see. I wish everyone was like that."
With the tours concluded, the players made their own way through the museum's newest exhibit, "Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11" depicting the way the sports world reacted to the tragedy in the days and months that followed.
They went their own way from there, with a lesson about the city that all of them, regardless of their background, share as home today.
"You learn more about the players, you learn more about your staff," said Atkinson. "I think those things count. It translates to the locker room, it translates to the court. I’m not sure…That’s not why we’re doing it. I think every New Yorker, every American, you should understand our history.”