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Two Things I Can’t Question: Sam Dalembert’s Heart and Hustle

Jan 20, 2010, 9:05 PM EDT

I've been in South Florida on a business trip since Saturday, finally boarding a plane this afternoon to come home to Philly. A few weeks ago, my 7:30 flight was cancelled, and my coworkers and I were bumped to an earlier flight, which was almost full upon check in earlier today. Boarding was a mess, complicated by another flight also being pushed onto ours (resulting in a 3-year-old boxer pup sharing my floor space). That flight was set to leave much earlier from Fort Lauderdale and land in DC, but a cabin pressure issue not long after takeoff forced the plane to return to FLL, and a bunch of the passengers to find seats on our plane. I have no idea how they fit any more on. 

Nor do I have the first clue what it feels like to be 6'11 and sitting all the way in the back of the coach section of a plane that was this crowded. 

That was the plight of Sam Dalembert, whom I spotted walking toward me after I got to my seat. Earlier today, I'd read that Sammy had flown to his native Haiti to see family and assist in the earthquake relief effort, and also that he'd be returning in time to play a home game against the Blazers tonight at 7PM. With our flight taking off at 4PM and encountering a few minor delays, it was going to be pretty close…

Boarding was amateur hour, with flustered passengers fumbling to get their enormous bags into the overhead compartments, so Sammy was in a holding pattern right next to my seat for a moment. After a brief rush of disbelief that he was on this plane—that anyone his size was on any plane and headed toward a tiny coach seat—I exchanged a few words with him, asking him how everything went and wishing him well. He was perfectly polite, and gave me a fistbump as he left when he was clear to walk back to his seat. 

The flight was incredibly fast, starting its descent and landing well before we'd assumed it would. I doubt it was because I asked the flight attendant to tell the pilot to "hurry it up" so Sammy wouldn't miss his start (the flight crew seemingly had no idea who this huge guy was). We landed at about 6:25, then sat on the runway for 5-10 minutes that seemed like forever. The boxer whimpered a little, weary from his second plane ride of the day, but the human passengers complained louder. I wondered how the ducking giant in the back of the plane must have felt, especially after our flight had circled right over the sports complex with the Wach in plain view. 

Once we were all off the plane, Dalembert started to walk briskly. As he passed me, I said "Go get 'em tonight, Sammy." He put his hand up, nodded and quietly, said "Alright," then took off running down the terminal hall. Here's a video from about 10 seconds after that. 

On the way home, I tuned in to the radio broadcast and heard them announce that Sammy was taking the opening tip. Pretty unbelievable after witnessing just a bit of the travel it took him to get there and play in his 313th straight game, third longest streak in the league according to tonight's broadcast. 

He was held scoreless in the first half, but he's coming alive as I type this in the third quarter. [Update: He'd end the night with a 10/15 double-double and a foul out in the final two minutes.]

Big ups to the Sixers staffers who got Dalembert to the court on time. The Comcast SportsNet video above shows him sprinting down the hall in his street clothes toward the locker room; meanwhile, I didn't even make it home before the game started. All involved, including Sammy, must have really showed some hustle. 

The bigger storyline behind all the travel minutiae I've just recounted is that Dalembert was returning from Haiti, where more than 70,000 people are believed to be dead in the wake of a horrendous earthquake. You've no doubt seen, read, and heard about this ongoing tragedy. The response by many in the US and worldwide has been commendable, but there will continue to be a need for aid in the coming months if not years. 

Here's Dalembert's commercial asking us to help by donating to Unicef, whose current primary goal is help the children of Haiti. 

And here's a link for us to do just that. 

Additional options include the American Red Cross and Sam's own foundation.