As far as his parents can remember, little 12-year-old Quade Robbins hadn’t smiled since the day his brother fell victim to the horror that gashed this city on Oct. 1.
But when the head coach of his favorite team put his arm around him, his lips parted, his face glowed and for a few moments he stopped thinking about the pain. He laughed when Lakers coach Luke Walton turned to Tracey Robbins, Quade’s mother, and asked if she was Quade’s sister. His eyes widened as Walton shared tidbits about the players. His family watched, grateful, as the entire team stopped on their way out of the locker room to say hello and sign autographs. Sometimes they hugged each other, and sometimes they fought back tears.
When a shooter fired bullets into a crowd watching a country music concert outside Mandalay Bay last week, 58 families lost someone. The Robbins family was among them. Quinton Robbins was killed when a bullet hit him in the chest and exited out of his lower back. He was 20. They honored him in a private funeral on Saturday.
On Sunday, they tried to smile again, and the Lakers tried to help.
“Took some tears away,” said Joe Robbins, Quade and Quinton’s father. “Dried those up for us for at least one day.”
The Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings 75-69 in an exhibition that mattered very little. What happened after the game mattered so much more.
“I think it’s important that when tragedy like this happens, you don’t live in fear,” Walton said. “You’ve got to keep life going, I think for a lot of people here that love basketball. … They love the Lakers here like it’s their home team.
As a whole the Robbins family, from Henderson, Nevada, does not love the Lakers. At least they didn’t heading into Sunday night. Quade, though, is a diehard. He loved Kobe Bryant. He cheered for the Lakers even when everyone else in the house turned against him for it.
Joe smiled as he playfully declined to name Quinton’s favorite NBA team.
They had tickets for Sunday’s game anyway, as a gift for Quade. But when the Lakers heard the family would be there, they interfered. Instead of the upper level seats they purchased, the family received complimentary floor seats and a promise to meet Brandon Ingram, Quade’s favorite player.
In an ode to the victims of the attack, players wore black T-shirts with #VegasStrong and the Las Vegas skyline printed across them pregame, and during the game while sitting on the bench. Walton wore his during his pregame news conference before changing into his game suit.
Magic Johnson, Lakers president of basketball operations, led the crowd — announced at 13,094 — in a moment of silence before the game.
“What I need you to do right now is show that evil and hate will never win,” Johnson said.
Johnson locked arms with a row of arena and team executives that included Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and Kings president of basketball operations Vlade Divac.That group later donated the proceeds of the game to victims, their families and first responders.
At the first timeout, Johnson and Buss visited with the Robbins family.
“It just shows how great the people are that live in our country and what sports is all about, bringing people together and giving them an escape sometimes.”
After the game, Walton turned to Quinton’s parents, his little brother, his sister Skylar, Quinton’s girlfriend Ally Plumlee, his best friend Justice Augustine and his uncle Mike Wells. Walton spent 20 minutes hugging them, teasing them and introducing them to his players.
Augustine and Plumlee embraced each other tenderly for a moment as Ingram signed the No. 14 jersey Quade was wearing. When Ivica Zubac emerged, Walton bragged to Quade about how the second-year center used to be fat, but he dropped his body fat to 8%.
When Larry Nance Jr. greeted the family, Walton asked Joe if Nance was any good while in college at Wyoming. “I didn’t like him,” Joe said to laughs.
Their healing is so far from ending, and even as the Lakers embraced them, their pain remained visible.
At one point, Walton put his arms around Joe and held him for a long enough that Joe eventually started laughing. He said he wished there was more he could do. He offered his condolences, and he extended an offer to host the family in Los Angeles any time they needed a respite. He assured Joe that his son’s legacy would last.
Joe’s eyes filled with tears as Walton spoke.
“Today was phenomenal,” Joe said later. “The Lakers are an amazing organization. To support my son. … Went to the funeral yesterday. So it was a depressing time for us. And still is, and will be.”
On that night, the Lakers did what they could.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli