Julius Randle
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Knicks secure an emotional win over the Miami Heat in Julius Randle’s return to the court after losing his grandmother.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—Some things are bigger than basketball and unfortunately for the New York Knicks, they have experienced major losses off the court this season. After missing two games following the death of his grandmother, Julius Randle returned to the court on Sunday to lead the Knicks to a comeback win over the Miami Heat.

“It was extremely tough. A lot of highs, a lot of lows,” Randle told reporters after the 124-121 win. “My grandmother left an incredible legacy and mark on my life and my family so it has been tough. It’ll still be tough, but tonight was special and I really felt her out there the whole time.”

Randle’s game-high 26 points led the way for a win that snapped the Knicks out of their recent funk. New York had lost five-straight games entering Sunday and it was obvious that Randle brought much-needed energy back into the starting lineup.

“It was incredible. You could see he took it up a level in the second half,” interim head coach Mike Miller said after the game. “He played with such great force and poise in letting the game work itself out the way that he did. He picked his spots well. I can’t say enough how connected those guys were to be able to do that. You have to when you play a team like Miami.”

Despite the loss, Miami sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. Of the Knicks’ 11 wins this season, this one stands above the rest in terms of impressiveness. The win at home over Kristaps Porzingis and the Dallas Mavericks certainly rivals it, but the Heat are a better team than the Mavericks.

While wins and losses can seem like life and death at times, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Randle is not the first Knick this season to lose a close loved one. Dennis Smith Jr.‘s stepmother passed away suddenly in October and just days later, Reggie Bullock‘s sister was shot and killed in Baltimore.

“It’s tough when somebody loses someone who is important to them,” Randle told reporters on Sunday. “A couple things have happened to us, and as a group, it affects everybody. You know, I cried when teammates lost their family members, it’s tough and I feel the same compassion now, losing my grandmother. It’s tough, but you’ve got to keep going.”

For many players, returning to the court is a way to grieve and move forward after experiencing the loss of a loved one. That’s part of what makes sports special to so many people, athletes and fans alike. It’s a way to escape.

“It was hard,” Randle admitted about re-joining the team. “But there has been unbelievable support, top to bottom, ownership, Steve [Mills], Scott [Perry], coaches, teammates, everybody has given amazing support and it makes the process easier. It’s never going to be an easy process, but it relieves some of the stress being around these guys. It’s family.”

Organizationally, the Knicks have made sure to give their players a wide berth after the loss of a loved one. Smith, Bullock, and Randle were all given time away from the team to take care of family matters first and foremost. Miller reiterated this point to reporters in his postgame press conference on Sunday.

“I think the biggest thing is the players know that as a group, collectively, we respect their privacy and the things that they need to do individually to take care of their families,” Miller said of how he and his staff has communicated with players after tragedies this season. “I think organizationally, everybody does a great job just letting them know we’re here for you and we’ll do anything you need. We’re here for you and I think that’s a clear message throughout.”

There’s no specific blueprint to follow in situations like Randle’s. Regardless, the Knicks are handling these tough times about as well as any team can.

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU