clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tom Emma, 1961-2011

We didn't know Tom Emma, but we always thought highly of him from a distance.  He just seemed like a solid sort of guy.

He came to Duke with a huge reputation which he never quite matched.  No crime there; that's happened to thousands of guys in college, many of whom, like Emma,  had qualities which took them very far in life after basketball was over (and also got them as far as they did athletically as well).

Emma's Career Stats
Category Total Per Game
Service 110 GP 71 GS
Minutes 2818 25.6
Points 784 7.1
FG Pct. .437
3FG Pct. .436
FT Pct. .843
Rebounds 196 1.8
Assists 245 2.2
Blocks 7 .1
Steals 57 .5

And actually, he didn't have a bad career. Emma, as you can see in the table to your right, played in 110 games and averaged 25 minutes per game.  He was a kid who worked fantastically hard to maximize a modest athletic gift.  Many of us would give our right arm to do that at Duke.

He was also a key transitional figure as Duke moved from the Bill Foster era to the Mike Kryzewski era.

Relatives told the New York Daily News that Emma had been depressed and for whatever his reasons were, he went to the New York Athletic Club on Tuesday night, went to the top of the 24-story building, and threw himself off.  Police found him on the second floor landing of the Jumeirah Essex House.  There was no note or explanation left behind.

After his death, Jay Bilas told the Durham Herald-Sun that Emma, who was a senior captain when the legendary class of 1986 arrived, was a tremendous teammate:

"He was like a big brother to me.  He really looked out for us. It was a situation that could have been tense. Here you had a bunch of freshman coming in there with possibility of taking away jobs. Tommy never let the tension seep into our team. He was always supportive. I'll never forget it....He was always keeping tabs on you to make sure that you are doing OK.  I remember Tommy being a really supportive teammate."

Johnny Dawkins said this about his former teammate: "I can't believe it.  He was a great guy. I have nothing but respect for him as a competitor. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Losing people you care about is always tough, but nothing is tougher to come to terms with than suicide.  On the one hand, you wish you had known or understood or that you could have intervened in some way.  On the other, there is the absolutely raw emotion when someone does this. Perhaps someone being murdered is more searing, but at least there you can blame someone, have an emotional focus.  In a suicide, there's just grief and bewilderment.

No one outside of perhaps Emma's family and his circle of friends will understand this.  But what we can understand, at least approximately, is their grief and their loss. Whatever haunted Tom Emma was unbearable; what his family has to live through now is perhaps even more so.  Our very deepest condolences to them.