A Vietnam War veteran in the South Carolina State Guard named Jack Sharpe, with a face as hard as granite, stood at midcourt before the Winthrop Eagles were set to play basketball Tuesday night.
Sharpe's tough. A Navy veteran, a father with a son who was in Iraq. Seen buddies die. He folded the Stars and Stripes. Thousands of people were silent, and a basketball game in a few minutes seemed less important than fathers and sons and America.
Death took De'Andre Adams, a Winthrop player and fan favorite whose life was cut short after a car crash last year. But Tuesday showed memory can't be taken by car crashes or wars.
The only person talking was Winthrop radio broadcaster Dave Friedman, who had to talk. He kept his voice down, but it boomed like a foghorn in foggy seas. That's how quiet it was.
Yet, maybe his sonorous voice, doing his job when he would have liked to have stood quietly like the rest, showed all of us that life must go on. The game must be played. The living must carry on for their teammates, even after death takes away something so wonderful and joyful and magic.
Men, real men who make lives better, remain forever.
The American flag in Sharpe's hands came back from Iraq, where it had flown aboard a helicopter gunship during wartime. A gift from a member of the Marine Corps to the people that Marine considers family.
For John Adams, De'Andre's father, Winthrop will always be family.
Just like his son, who played on this Winthrop team the two previous seasons and brought such joy to his teammates and these same fans, was family.
De'Andre, the smallest Eagle, died at age 20 in May after a crash in his hometown of Atlanta. In August, De'Andre's jersey, No. 24, was retired.
The other players wear 24 in little black circles over their hearts, a patch, or written sometimes on their sneakers in magic marker.
That is what De'Andre Adams meant to his teammates.
But he meant so much to fans, too. Fans such as a guy from Lake Wylie named Carl Gullick, who just happens to be a state representative in the General Assembly. Gullick not only was at Tuesday night's ceremony, he brought nine other legislators from this area and other places. Republicans and Democrats sat together. No fighting over politics. This was far more important than arguing.
In a few days, Gullick will introduce a resolution at the Statehouse honoring De'Andre Adams and his Master Sgt. Marine Corps father, John, for three flags John sent from Iraq. One was presented Tuesday.
"I guarantee one thing," Gullick told me beforehand. "The vote to accept this resolution will be unanimous."
John Adams sent those flags because in Iraq he is a master sergeant who on Tuesday nights makes sure other sons come home to other fathers. He wrote about why he sent the flags: "Often I sit and think of all the countless acts of kindness, generosity and love from Winthrop University and the Winthrop community."
When the flag presented Tuesday night first came back to the Winthrop team before the Akron game, John Adams' comments were read to the team. It was, maybe, like a little part of De'Andre Adams was given back to these players who loved him so.
Maybe on cue Tuesday night, Friedman the radio broadcaster finally had a chance to pause. The cavernous Winthrop Coliseum was truly silent. A major named Larry Snipes, a Rock Hill guy who had seen Adams play and called him "a wonder," presented the flag to Winthrop President Anthony DiGiorgio. Then the Winthrop pep band played "The Star- Spangled Banner," and the words seemed to mean a little more than at other games. "Gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there," meant more. The song ended: "O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave."
There were claps like after the national anthem is played before any game. But these claps seemed to mean more.
Maybe Tuesday night, with that flag sent by a heartbroken father in the desert to those he calls family, a little more of De'Andre Adams was given back to the rest of us.