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Knicks’ Bonner Coping After Death of His Father

NEWSDAY

In the past 2 1/2 weeks, Anthony Bonner has experienced enough pain and joy to last a lifetime. He has felt the ultimate loss, the death of a parent, but also has seen the mark he and his father have left, through the flood of affection and emotion from his teammates, friends and hometown.

As a result, Bonner said Tuesday, he has seen sides of himself, the New York Knicks and the city of St. Louis that will enrich him forever. Outwardly, he seems the same person that left the Knicks in Portland the afternoon of Dec. 18 upon learning that his father, Isaac, had suffered a stroke. Inside, he said, he knows his father’s death Dec. 19 made him different.

“One thing my dad always wanted me to do was to work extremely hard and continue to get the most out of my ability,” Bonner said after the Knicks practiced at Purchase College. “If anything, now it’s going to light a fire under me that should have been lit a long time ago. I’m now going to get more out of my game and more out of the opportunities that I have, where before maybe I became a little complacent or relaxed or something.

“If there’s ever such a thing as a guardian angel, I know I have one now,” he added. “I know he’s with me and put a lot of things within me that were within him. So I know I’m going to be OK.”

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Bonner also has a supportive group of teammates and coach -- many of whom have gone through the same agony as he has. Patrick Ewing, Charles Smith, Hubert Davis and Coach Pat Riley are among the Knicks who have lost a parent. The team and players, Bonner said, bombarded him with flowers, cards and phone calls from the time he left until his return 12 days later. And they didn’t hold back when they finally saw Bonner in person before last Friday’s game against the Timberwolves in Minneapolis.

“When I walked on the bus, it was just love, love all around,” he said, “embracing, all the way from the front of the bus to the back of the bus to the shootaround. It feels good to have guys like that on your side in times of crises like that. In normal situations you don’t get to bond like that. We’re all too masculine or too manly to show emotion like that. It takes crises like that to show feeling sometimes.”

Bonner also saw St. Louis pour out its love. Isaac Bonner Sr. drove a cab in town for years and helped several youth organizations as Bonner was growing up. Huge crowds attended his wake and funeral, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch praised him in a column for “his passion for his work” and for what he instilled in Anthony and his other children.

Bonner returned to the Knicks drained emotionally as well as physically: he said he lost six or seven pounds. In his first game, he said, “it felt like my body was out there but my mind wasn’t.” He played 11 minutes against the Timberwolves, and Riley will work him back in slowly, starting tonight against the Hawks at the Garden.

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“We’ll ride that wave with him,” said Riley -- who, like Bonner, found out about his own father’s death in 1970 while in Portland for a game. “I talked to him a little bit. I experienced the same thing; we were both the same age (Riley was 25, Bonner 26), our dads were the same age (63)

The Knicks allowed Bonner to come back in his own time, and he originally wanted to stay with his family -- his mother Rosetta, his sister and three brothers -- past the New Year. He came back early, partly because the Knicks had lost Charles Oakley and Herb Williams to injury since he’d left.

“It’s only natural that I would still prefer to be at home, only because of the safety of my family,” he said. “It will be a very, very tough transition for them and I would like to think my presence there would help to make it a little bit easier.

“We have the greatest jobs in the world, but the toughest part is being away from your family so much.”

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Part of his family, however, will be with him always.


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