Buck Harvey: The luck of Horry came with a price

Robert Horry was lucky. Everyone saw it.

He kept moving from Hall of Fame big man to Hall of Fame big man, until he had won more championships than anyone except for the 1960s Boston Celtics.

Dirk Nowitzki is six rings behind him. LeBron James is seven.

But that’s just what everyone saw. In his private life, Horry faced the kind of misfortune that makes people ask, “Why me?” Along the way, he learned about sorrow, and he learned about what mattered.

No one would call this luck — but maybe this impacted his NBA career more than anything.

This week should remind everyone of the frailties of the rich and tall. There will be a memorial service today for another former Spur, Mike Mitchell, who passed away at the age of 55. And Horry’s 17-year-old daughter, Ashlyn, died Tuesday after a lifelong struggle with a rare genetic condition.

“People forget this sometimes,” Avery Johnson said Wednesday, “but we aren’t exempt. We go to weddings; we go to funerals. Maybe because we play a game, fans don’t think our lives are just like theirs.”

Avery knew Mitchell, but he was closer to Horry. Their families lived in the same Houston neighborhood, and Avery had a close-up view of Horry’s challenge.

“Heartbreaking,” is how Avery termed it.

Ashlyn struggled to talk, eat and breathe. She was in and out of hospitals from birth. Horry missed most of the Spurs’ preseason in the fall of 2007, for example, because her condition was life threatening.

But the Horrys customized their Houston home for her, and they arranged three-hour daily rehab sessions. Being away bothered Horry so much that he considered opting out of his Lakers contract in 2001 to play for the Rockets. At the time, he was merely winning three consecutive titles with the league’s glamour team.

From a 2001 Los Angeles Times article:

When he talks to Ashlyn on the phone, she holds the receiver to her ear. He tells her about his day, and about the Lakers, and how he loves her. And then he speaks to Keba, his wife, who describes Ashlyn’s expressions when he spoke to her.

If that sounds sad, it is, Horry said, “some days.”

“But you get used to it,” he said. “Well, you tell yourself that, anyway.”

Then there’s this from Horry in another story: “There are bad days, like on the Fourth of July, when we have my brother’s kids and her sister’s kids. You can tell she wants to do what they’re doing, but can’t. Those are the days I feel bad for her.”

Ashlyn was a reason he signed with the Spurs. He wanted to be nearer to Houston. On rare occasions, his daughter came to a game in San Antonio.

On rarer ones, Horry talked about her condition. Even those closest to him on the Spurs staff don’t remember him dwelling on his pain.

Through it all, Horry called Ashlyn “my little angel.” And maybe she was exactly that for him when he walked on a basketball court. His daughter was born, after all, just months before his first championship with the Rockets.

But she wasn’t a good luck charm, exactly. She changed the way he mixed anxiety and pressure.

“From the moment my daughter almost didn’t even make it,” Horry told an ESPN reporter in 2002, “I realized you can’t control what life hands you. I used to get nervous before that. Excited nervous, like gimmetheball-gimmetheball-gimmetheball. Hey, I love what I do, and it’s important in a sense, but not compared to my family. It’s just a game.”

So there he was in Detroit in 2005, with Rasheed Wallace diving at him, calm when most wouldn’t have been.


To Horry, it didn’t come easy.


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