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Adreian Payne deserved more

The tragic death of the former Atlanta Hawks’ 2014 first-round pick cuts much deeper than just the loss of a former professional basketball player.

Atlanta Hawks v Chicago Bulls

Hey. It’s been a while.

These are not the conditions I had in mind to return to, but hey, we’re here.

Another Black man died by the wound of a gun’s bullet. Another Black man before the age of 35. Another Black father gone before his son turned 10.

When it may appear Rayford Young’s tweeting too much defending his son and Atlanta Hawks’ star point guard Trae, or Tee Morant has done one too many courtside interviews, LaVar Ball has completely overshadowed his sons or LeBron James was being selfish when he joined Bronny’s AAU team’s layup line to dunk before a game- understand these are often uncharted territories.

There’s an all-too-familiar eeriness when Young Dolph’s partner endorses an organization advocating for Black men deserving to grow old, only for Dolph to be shot and killed at 36 years old. Thanks to a one-in-11 school-to-prison pipeline for Black boys, the highest rate of heart-disease-related deaths of any demographic and a continuously increasing rate of gun-related deaths more than any other American demographic, Black men are an endangered species in America. Therefore, many of them get to be fathers, much less see their children grow up and become successful beings themselves.

In the early hours of May 9, Adreian Payne became the latest victim to be robbed of this privilege.

In an incident allegedly defending a female friend from an abusive partner in Orlando, Payne was shot and killed at the age of 31.

I started writing this column on the day he was gunned down but had to revisit it later in the week. Since I started writing it, some of rap’s biggest names were arrested on RICO charges in connection to one of Atlanta’s alleged largest gang rivalries. Rapper Lil Keed also died at 24 to rumored kidney failure, as the mother of his child is rumored to be pregnant as well. Kidney failure is the same thing that took Fredo Santana from his children and ended his life at 27 in 2018 after he battled a public addiction to lean, a drug he drank to distract himself from the self-proclaimed “PTSD” he suffered from growing up in a rough Chicago neighborhood.

More Black, and high-profiled, fathers have been taken away from their children.

I also began writing this before the racially-motivated mass shooting that left 8 Black people in Buffalo dead, which, of course, included some more Black dads.

Payne deserved more.

He deserved more years with his child and his family.

He deserves the love he’s received from the Atlanta basketball community this past week.

Despite the Atlanta Hawks trading him mid-way through his rookie season in 2015, he still called Atlanta one of his American homes. He still played at AEBL every summer and he even sat behind the Sixth Man Section some nights during the 2015 NBA Playoffs.

He only was a Hawk for 32 games, but like Shelvin Mack, Mike Scott, Anthony Edwards, Jaylen Brown, Lou Williams and Paul Millsap, he always remained active in the world of Atlanta basketball.

For the man known just as much for his friendship with child cancer patient Lacey Holsworth as he was for his on-court performance at Michigan State, Payne leaves behind a legacy many only can hope to aspire to- putting himself before others.

“For anyone that knew Adreian, you knew Adreian was harmless, he was an incredible person, he cared about people more than he cared about himself,” former Michigan State roommate Draymond Green said on his podcast. “And when I say harmless, he lost his life trying to help somebody.”

Holsworth died at 8 years old in April 2014, just months before the NBA Draft. Once commissioner Adam Silver announced the Hawks selected Payne with the 15th overall pick, he walked to the stage and buttoned up his suit that included a tribute to her.

Now, it’s time for the community and the game of basketball to do the same for him.

Long Live AP, and allow the Black fathers who are still here today to celebrate whichever way they want to.