In six days, John Adams, who has been in the Marines all his adult life, who leads young men and brings them home to their fathers, will go to his second war.
But Tuesday night, before he left for Iraq, he came from Atlanta to Rock Hill to thank about a thousand people who loved his 20-year-old son who will never come back to him.
Because John Adams is the father of De'Andre Adams, the Winthrop University basketball player who died in May after a car crash in his hometown outside Atlanta.
John Adams did what you would expect from a man who must lead in wars. He smiled, and he thanked the school for the huge picture of his son that will be on display at the Winthrop Coliseum forever. But more, he thanked Rock Hill for loving his son, and him.
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The night was a community memorial service for Adams at the coliseum, the arena where the smallest player on the team won the hearts of every little kid and old man who ever had the good luck to watch him play. Boosters came, casual fans came and people who knew De'Andre came. There was a touching video of Adams playing, with the Winthrop radio voice of Dave Friedman over the pictures saying "Deee-Andre Adamsss!" like he did so many times on broadcasts when No. 24 would steal the ball, and the show, and the hearts of the fans.
Just the name booming over the loudspeakers, with the pictures of joy that were De'Andre, had old ladies and college students alike in tears.
John Adams shared that when he came to Rock Hill for his son's recruiting trip three years ago, he went for a drink while his son toured the school with the players. Strangers befriended him after finding out why he was here, and John Adams said, "It was like family."
He said he knew Rock Hill and Winthrop were the place for his son. And Tuesday night, with all those people there just for that son's memory, John Adams said Rock Hill and Winthrop still are his son's place.
In one row of the arena sat Christopher Gordon, 20, who met De'Andre when he was at Rock Hill High School. Gordon never played basketball, still doesn't, but he was touched by the small player as short as he is who made him feel big.
Next to him was Shavonne Taylor, 20, a junior at Winthrop like Adams would have been.
"I met De'Andre the first day I was ever here on the campus, and he had me laughing," Taylor said. "I will never forget it."
Next to her was another junior, Tiffany Hackett, who said, "There never was any doubt" she would be at the memorial service.
If you are a fan of Winthrop basketball, the team's magical run to its first-ever NCAA tournament win in March was a coming together of people locally and Spokane, Wash., where the game was played. Adams touched the lives of a national television audience in that game, too, and a picture of him leaping off the floor at the end of that game now will be part of Winthrop forever. His jersey, No. 24, will be retired.
Fitting, and right, and perfect.
John Adams spoke to the crowd near the end of the service, and he asked the people if they would help him. He wanted to do what he always did with his son when his son won a game.
"Gimme a D!" he yelled, and the crowd gave him a D.
Then an E, then A, N, D, R, E.
"Dee-Andre Adams!" John Adams yelled out to the crowd, and they rose as one and gave the father a standing ovation like they had for the son so many times in the same building.
De'Andre Adams may be gone, but his father stood there, just like his son used to, on that same floor. He sounded, and looked, and smiled, like his son.
A man named Adams, again, inspired strangers to rise, clap and share in the joy of sports that is so much bigger than a round basketball.
To view a video of the De'Andre Adams memorial service, go to