HUNTINGTON | Two weeks earlier, Justin King sat on the front bleacher inside the Hammond Civic Center. His Bowman Academy Eagles had just won the sectional championship, the school's first in Class 3A.
The 6-foot-7 big man deflected well-wishers and media. He was on the phone. It was his older brother.
“He can't come to the games,” said King after scoring 10 points in the Eagles' 85-71 win over Fort Wayne Dwenger in Saturday's Class 3A Northern Semistate.
King and his mates will play in Indianapolis for the third straight March, this time taking on Greensburg on Saturday in the 3A final at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jesse King, Justin's brother, will not be in the state capital. He's in jail. He was charged with murder Dec. 27.
“He calls me after every one of my games,” Justin said. “He's like everything to me. He's like my father.”
It's hard to put into words the pain and strife that occurs on Gary's mean streets. The violence and bloodshed could cause a block of ice to cry.
Justin King is Bowman's best player. He's risen above the pit. He's worked hard to be a solid person off the court. He even stopped and took a photograph with one of Huntington's police officers at the game.
His brother played hoops at Roosevelt. Why did this tragedy happen? Why did another young man, Tramell Harper, have to die in a barrage of bullets.
Can someone, somewhere, make this madness stop?
But until it does, we have to focus on those Eagles with wings on their back. Fighting to fly. Working to rise above.
“When I talk to him he can make a bad day a great day,” King said.
Bowman coach Marvin Rea remembers the day where a sad stare and tears entered King's eyes. Bowman was playing in the Indianapolis Ben Davis tournament.
King played one of his worst games of his career. His mind was somewhere else.
“Family means everything to Justin,” Rea said. “If it affects his brother, it affects him. Justin's very tough on the court. But off the court, he's one of the nicest kids around.”
The Bowman family did what they do best Saturday. The stars – King and Davon Dillard – were strapped with questionable foul trouble. Heck, even Eagles official scorekeeper Donnie King fouled out, I believe.
But the others did their job, they did their role. Basically, the song remains the same.
“I feel blessed; it's a blessing,” Justin King said of winning his third straight semistate title. “This doesn't happen to everyone.”
Sometimes folks think of Bowman players as prima donnas. Superstars, etc. But really, they're kids with dreams like so many others.
This group, this family, has just found a way to reach for the heavens. Again.
The celebration was loud. The Steel City fans were proud of their team. King did not have his phone on the wood floor with red and black paint.
But he knew before he got back to Gary he would get a call from his big brother. And he knew, without any questions, what he was going to say to him.
And it had nothing to do with basketball.
“I'm going to tell him I love him,” King said.