Tim Tallcouch has never met Kevin Durant.
Probably never will.
Yet, he is grateful for the Thunder superstar.
That's because Tallcouch is from Newtown, Conn. He's the boys basketball coach at the high school there, and he saw the tribute that Durant paid his hurting town last Friday night.
Durant wrote “NEWTOWN, CT” on the shoes he wore for Oklahoma City's game only hours after the school shooting there.
“Believe me,” Tallcouch said, “it helps knowing that the world cares.”
What Durant did might seem small. What many athletes and teams have done to recognize Newtown or Sandy Hook Elementary might seem inconsequential amid the incomprehensible horror of last week's mass shooting.
But it is not.
With apologies to David Stern — the NBA commish said earlier this week that he believes these tributes are more about helping ourselves than helping victims — athletes have turned their shoes or their gloves or their helmets into moving memorials.
Sports figures paying tribute to non-sports-related events almost never used to happen. When President Kennedy and Dr. King were assassinated, not one professional team acknowledged the events with any sort of patch or decal or armband. Now, even when teams and leagues choose not to pay tribute to an event, players are taking matters into their own hands. They use their shoes, their gloves, their armbands.
These small pieces of real estate are where we often see athletes' personalities. We see it in their shoe style. We see it in their glove designs. And now, we see it in their tributes.
The Miami Heat wrote “Praying for families in CT” and “RIP to families in CT” on their shoes Saturday. The New England Patriots won black-ribbon logos on their helmets Sunday. Both the Giants and the Jets teams wore S.H.E.S. decals on their helmets.
Giants receiver Victor Cruz took things a little farther. Upon learning that Jack Pinto, one of the shooting's young victims, was a fan of his, Cruz wrote the 6-year-old's name all over his cleats and gloves.
“Jack Pinto, my hero,” one read.
“This one is for you,” another said.
Cruz then drove to Newtown and personally delivered the game-worn equipment to Jack's family.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, whose father is a first responder, wrote the town's name on both of his game shoes Sunday.
Monday night, Titans running back Chris Johnson wrote the name of every child victim on his shoes. He then went out and scored on an awe-inspiring, franchise-record 94-yard touchdown run.
Often when a player wears a personalized item, the NFL fashion police crack down and tell him to remove it before kickoff.
No one forced Johnson to change.
With these tributes comes support.
With that support comes comfort.
“The way they have shown their support in the last few days is fabulous,” Tallcouch said of athletes such as Durant, Cruz and Co. “Even if their actions for a short time help ease the pain, it's worth it.”
Even though this is Tallcouch's first season as boys basketball coach at Newtown High, he has been a chemistry teacher there for a decade. He coached the last few years at nearby Wilton High School, where he led the team to the postseason last year for the first time in more than a decade, but he finally got a chance to coach Newtown after the longtime coach was not retained.
Tallcouch and Newtown team opened their season Thursday night.
Friday morning, a monster shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered 20 children and six adults.
Suddenly, Tallcouch was no longer thinking about the double-digit loss that his team suffered in the opener. The father of three and teacher of many could only think about the children.
“Right now, for me, it isn't about the chemistry in class or the Xs and Os on the court,” he said. “It's about making sure everyone is gonna heal.”
That process is a long and difficult one.
Kari Watkins, the executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, interacts regularly with people who were affected by the bombing. She has seen how much the support of others, even perfect strangers, has meant to them.
“What it signifies to those who are most closely affected is that ... there are people who are sharing in your pain and your grief,” she said. “It's very important.”
That's why Watkins sent a picture of Durant's sneaker tribute to one of her college roomies and longtime friends.
That friend happens to live in Newtown.
“It's amazing to see that people care,” the friend told Watkins. “Around the country, people care.”
That was what Durant hoped to convey when he scrawled those nine simple letters on his Nikes. He has young cousins. He has a goddaughter. He knows how hard it would be to lose one of them.
He wanted to do something to let people in Newtown know that his heart was with them.
“There's a lot more people than just myself thinking about them,” Durant said. “A lot of people are praying for them. I just happened to be one of the guys having a platform. Just having that platform, I wanted everybody to recognize them.
“Hopefully, it can help.”
It already has.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.