Jan. 12 will mark 17 years since the death of former NBA guard Bobby Phills, who was killed in a three-car accident after losing control of his vehicle and crashing into oncoming traffic.
In the latest episode of Beyond the Paint, which will air on NBA TV on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 11 p.m. ET, Phills' family and friends looked back on the tragedy while updating their family life more than a decade-and-a-half later.
"Tyvola Road was a road you would take to watch the 25,000 people crowded into that little coliseum to cheer on the Hornets. Then one day it changed to a place where a life was taken and so many lives were affected because of that one day," Hornets assistant coach Stephen Silas said.
Phills played in the NBA for nine seasons, his first six with the Cleveland Cavaliers and last three with the Charlotte Hornets. He was a three-and-D wing more than a decade before that became a regular part of the NBA vernacular; he finished as a 39 percent shooter from three-point range and was named to the 1995-96 All-Defensive second team.
Michael Jordan called Phills the toughest defender he ever faced.
Phills died while traveling on Tyvola Road in Charlotte, North Carolina, after driving at a high rate of speed with then-teammate David Wesley. His Porsche veered into oncoming traffic and crashed into two other vehicles. Both other drivers survived, while Phills died on the scene. Wesley was later convicted of reckless driving for his part in the incident.
"That morning, I didn't get to tell Bobby goodbye," Kendall Phills, Bobby's wife, said. "He just left, and I didn't hug him, I didn't tell him that I loved him. It was just a typical day.
"The firemen wouldn't let me go near his body. So I pleaded with the guy, 'Look I have to say my final goodbye.' He let me go, I held his hand, and I prayed with him. And I let him know I was going to take care of his kids."
Bobby and Kendall Phills had two children, both of whom went on to play college basketball. Bobby Ray Phills III, nicknamed Trey, is in his sophomore season playing guard at Yale. Kerstie Phills is in her freshman season at Wagner College, where she also plays guard.
"I remember just asking myself and asking my mom, 'Why would God let this happen to our family?" Trey Phills said. "What did we do to deserve this? I'd throw away all this, I just want my dad back. As I grew older, you kind of realize the hardships and struggles that sometimes people go through ultimately wind up shaping you for the best person you can be."
The Hornets retired Bobby Phills' No. 13 in 2000. While the No. 13 was used when the franchise was branded the Bobcats, the team re-retired Phills' number after rebranding back to the Hornets name in 2014-15.
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