Rockets back grieving dad McHale

  • Article by: RANDY HARVEY , Houston Chronicle
  • Updated: November 29, 2012 - 7:03 AM

Houston's players offered their sympathy to McHale before daughter's funeral.

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Houston Rockets forward Marcus Morris and teammates bow their heads during a moment of silence for the late daughter of head coach Kevin McHale, Sasha, before their NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. Oklahoma City won 120-98. The Rockets began the day by attending Sasha McHale's funeral in Minnesota that followed her death Saturday at age 23 of complications from lupus.

Photo: Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

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OKLAHOMA CITY --Instead of a photo on Sasha McHale's Facebook page, there was this simple message: "I LOVE YOU TO THE MOON AND BACK.''

No one knows who said that first. Some guess H.G. Wells. It might have been the first father to ever tuck his daughter into bed.

It was most recently popularized in a poem dedicated to a young girl who lost her father on 9/11. He was a co-pilot of one of the planes hijacked by terrorists that crashed into the World Trade Center.

"I love you up to the moon and back.

"Words she'd love once again to hear.

"For they were the very last words from her father

"To grace her tender ears.''

A young girl grieves for her father. Sad, yes, but as any caring parent knows, he would prefer that to grieving for her.

Kevin McHale, coach of the Rockets, and his wife, Lynn, buried their daughter on a cold, gray afternoon in Minnesota on Wednesday. Sasha, 23, died Saturday after a long battle with lupus, a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs. It stalks young women in particular.

Although the Rockets had a game Tuesday night in Houston, they sent a party of 40, including players and coaches, to St. Odilia Catholic Church in Shoreview on Wednesday morning. When they walked through the door, McHale and his wife were arranging candles around a collage of photos of Sasha, a final private moment with the second-youngest of their five children.

They stood quietly until McHale looked up and saw them there. He embraced each, lingering longer with Kelvin Sampson, coaching the Rockets until he returns.

"It was really, really, really emotional,'' Sampson said. "Just emotional.''

The Rockets couldn't stay for the funeral. They had to leave early to assure they would be in Oklahoma City in time for their Wednesday night game against the Thunder, a 120-98 loss.

"I think our guys understood that something far more powerful and important had happened than their routines,'' Sampson said before the game. "This was supporting our coach who lost a daughter.''

His voice cracking, the father of two added, "I can't imagine what that's like.''

The Rockets honored Sasha in the Thunder game as they had the night before at the Toyota Center in Houston against Toronto, with a green ribbon on the left shoulder of their jerseys.

Green was Sasha McHale's favorite color. She was proud of her Irish heritage.

When she died Saturday, one of her professors at University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she was studying communications, sent out an e-mail in Irish-Gaelic, which translated to: "May her soul sit at the right hand of God.''

But she also liked green because her father played for the Boston Celtics. "Sasha was a daddy's girl,'' Sampson said.

She was 5-11, wore her father's number (32) and played her father's position, power forward, at Totino-Grace High School. She wasn't the scorer that he had been, preferring to pass, but she was the same tenacious rebounder and defender.

Although her illness was entering its final stages, Sasha visited her father in Houston for a few days around her last birthday.

"The only thing about being sick on my birthday is spending quality time with my dad,'' she wrote on Twitter on Oct. 27. "He's lucky I love my @HoustonRockets.''

She sent out her last tweet Nov. 3, one week before she would enter the hospital and McHale would take a leave of absence.

It read simply: "Let's go Rockets.''

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