Only word that comes to mind since I learned the news of Lorenzen Wright's horrific death. Thirty-four years old is far too young to die under any circumstances, but as the result of multiple gunshot wounds in the city you called home? (Don't doubt that this is yet another black eye in the national view of Memphis, a city that can't get out of its own way — in the eyes of those well beyond Shelby County — when it comes to violence and corruption.)
The late Dennis Freeland wrote a touching profile of the player we knew as "Ren," a 1995 cover story in MEMPHIS magazine, just before Wright's sophomore (and final) season at the University of Memphis. The story leaned heavily on the basketball star's relationship with his wheelchair-bound father. Somehow, the bond between an athlete rising toward his prime and a father incapacitated only physically strengthened with every honor and achievement Lorenzen added to his resume.
A decade later, Wright and his family posed for the cover of MEMPHIS PARENT's "Family Survival Guide," still the only athlete to lend his time and image to the monthly magazine devoted to educating and improving the lives of local parents and children. The message was a good one in an age when pro athletes often find fatherhood a larger challenge than any uniformed opponent.
Wright endured the sudden death of an infant child not long after that appearance on MEMPHIS PARENT. His NBA career faded quicker than he would have liked (though it should be noted he played in more NBA games than any other former Memphis Tiger). Recent financial troubles had apparently squeezed Wright in much the same way so many Americans have suffered over the last two years. Only difference with a former NBA star is the number of zeroes lost on the balance sheet.
Who knows if money (lost or owed) played a role in Wright's violent demise? There will come a time when that detail matters. For now, it's only heartbreak. To the list of former Memphis basketball heroes who have found themselves on the wrong side of a gun — from Baskerville Holmes to Antonio Burks — we now have to add Lorenzen Wright.
You could hear Wright's scream of elation upon delivering a slam dunk from the cheap seats of The Pyramid during Ren's college days. He loved playing basketball, particularly in Memphis. He smiled easiest when he was on the basketball court. I'm going to remember that smile.