Terrence Clarke died just after 5 pm EST on Thursday — 99 days prior to the NBA Draft.
The Celtics, some of whom knew and grew close to Clarke in recent years, were further along than usual in their pregame routine because Thursday’s game started at 7 p.m. Most begin 30 minutes later in Boston, so they played the game free from even the early online speculation regarding Clarke’s death, and scored a 99-86 victory of the Suns.
Jaylen Brown — out with shoulder pain — might’ve heard them first. For his teammates, the car accident, death, and tragedy were all confirmed as they sat in their lockers and Brad Stevens prepared to take questions after the game. He couldn’t speak. Kemba Walker neared tears. Clarke, 19, could’ve soon become a member of their team, or at least joined the NBA fraternity this summer.
He died in a car accident leaving a workout, trying to solidify years of preparation and foresight where he carefully planned his path to the NBA by finding mentors already in the league. Clarke would’ve preferred it happen with his hometown Celtics, so he reached out to players currently on the team to find mentors. Jayson Tatum, Brown and Walker would likely still be on the team by the time Clarke became eligible to be drafted.
“Ever since he was in high school, (Brown) was one of the main players I wanted to watch and take things from his game,” Clarke told the Boston Globe in 2019. “He was really strong and passionate about his game, and he was killing it.”
The smile. The energy. People across the basketball landscape universally associated both with Clarke.
Clarke forged his friendship with Brown before attending Brewster Academy through a direct message. Coby White told a similar story of Clarke approaching him at a camp to ask about life in the NBA. Clarke thought about every aspect of making himself a professional, the physical and mental, around the time Brown and Tatum made their first Eastern Conference Finals trip together. Both would soon describe Clarke like a brother.
He planned his dream so far ahead that NBA players reacted to Thursday’s tragedy like he already stood among them. The mark of a life lived, for some, is the width of impact and memory. To hear various players in different cities collectively describe Clarke’s ambition and glowing personality left little doubt about his love for life and fixation on what he lived for. That’s why Brown moved to immediately ensure the dream manifests posthumously at this summer’s draft.
“Terrence Clarke was a beautiful kid,” John Calipari, his college coach, said. “Someone who owned the room with his personality, smile and joy. People gravitated toward him.”
Clarke chose Cal’s Kentucky team having already emerged as one of the top 5-10 prospects in the class of 2020. He wanted feedback with a focus on stepping to the next level, which the Wildcats are known for. COVID struck the country, Clarke hurt his right leg and his season lasted only eight games as Kentucky faltered. He focused on the media aspect of playing at a major college program, the routine and what those that came before him did.
Clarke, from Dorchester, hoped to recreate the moments he embraced with the Celtics and others with his former neighbors, like regular phone calls and a birthday party with Tatum. When Clarke left his siblings, his beloved mother, Osmine, to Weston, to New Hampshire, to Lexington and LA, to sign with Klutch Sports, he always intended to return to home.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have somebody I could talk to and be there for everybody in the city,” he told the Globe. “When I get to a high level, I want to be there for the other kids that are trying to be at the same level I’m going to be at. I want to be an advocate for the city and set an example for everybody else ... I want to be that guy for everyone in the city.”
Brady Stevens, son of Boston’s head coach, became one of those kids inspired and influenced by Clarke. Brady, an avid college basketball fan, took in Clarke’s first season and looked up to him, Brad said on Thursday.
The Stevenses, Klutch and the NBA knew Clarke would join the league in July. One early mock draft even fittingly sent him to Boston. The league could allow it to happen posthumously by creating an extra draft pick to not only acknowledge the work Clarke had nearly completed to get drafted, but to empower Clarke’s family financially, with the ability to pass it onto the community like he planned to. Clarke will never appear in a NBA box score. That alone would not have fulfilled him anyway, and his survivors could still provide the lasting impact he hoped to create.
The Celtics are among those survivors. Brown is from Atlanta. Tatum represents St. Louis. Walker wears a New York cap everywhere he goes. The closest Boston’s basketball team has to be considered a local is Tremont Waters, from Connecticut. But Clarke pulled them all closer to Bostonian status. That was the power of Clarke’s magnetic personality.
“I work out with Jaylen, we work out, get shots in, 1-v-1’s, stuff like that, just going at each other, make each other better,” he told MassLive in 2019. “Jayson and Jaylen, those guys are big supporters for me.”
Brown shared a video the night Clarke died of him throwing down a windmill dunk at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury. Clarke had returned to the city from New Hampshire to meet with them. Brown hosted Clarke numerous times as a guest at TD Garden. He saw a player in Clarke that already had what it took to make it to the NBA and maybe more so, the spirit to accomplish something bigger than basketball.
“My lil bro is really gone,” he posted Thursday night.