By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
For Kevon Looney, games against the Milwaukee Bucks are special. As a Milwaukee native, the opportunity to take on his hometown team means a chance to reflect on his journey and embrace his roots — including the family and friends that pushed the 22-year-old to pursue a career as a professional basketball player.
This year’s game against the Bucks in Oakland, though, was noticeably different. Wati Majeed wasn’t there.
“It was tough for sure,” Kevon said. “I knew he would want me to go out there and play my hardest and represent like he was telling me my whole life to do.”
Throughout the decade-plus that the two were friends, Majeed attended every high school game of Kevon’s at Hamilton HighSchool in Milwaukee, seldomly missing any event. A constant presence in Looney’s life since third grade, on Oct. 14, 2018, Majeed died due to complications with a seizure at the age of 28. Looney found out before the season opener.
“I came into practice and didn’t really tell anybody,” Kevon said. “It was hard to go through practice that day, but I knew he would want me to be there.”
Majeed and Kevon’s friendship began at an early age. Bridging the six-year age gap, the pair met after Majeed and Kevon’s older brother, Kevin, became close friends during their time in high school.
Considered to be family to the Looneys, Majeed would analyze every one of Kevon’s performances.
“He was tough on Kevon,” Kevin said. “If he had 50 points, he should have had 70 points. ‘If it was me, I would have hit 10threes,’ that was just his personality. We were all hard on Kevon, but Wati was going to be the loudest and the funniest.”
Majeed would also bring signs to Kevon’s often under-attended games, where tickets had to be purchased at the high school during school hours. Kevin would frequently buy game tickets in bulk while Majeed helped pass them out to make sure that if any section was full, it was there to support Kevon.
While their friendship often circled back to the game of basketball, the conversations between Kevon and Majeed would have ranged from music and girls to current events and future goals. Perhaps the most frequent, though: The age-old debate about who was the greatest player in the NBA.
“Was it Kobe? Was it LeBron?” Kevon said. “I would always hear his voice growing up. It was the Kobe and LeBron puppet commercial talking about, ‘You gotta be hungry.’ He always used to tell me ‘You’ve gotta be hungry, Kevon,’ like how Kobe would be to LeBron about the rings.”
“Wati used to substitute Kevon’s name for LeBron’s,” Kevin said.
Drafted 30th overall out of UCLA by the Warriors in 2015, Kevon would earn a pair of NBA championship rings, proving to Majeed that he had heard his message about satisfying his hunger.
“When I actually got me a couple [of rings] he stopped saying it after a while,” Kevon joked.
In June, when Kevon returned to Milwaukee after the Warriors had won their third NBA championship in four years, he let Majeed try on the 2017 ring earned in 2017, and let Majeed hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“He got to experience all of that,” Kevon said. “So that was really cool. It was special.”
Four months later, on October 15, as Kevon prepared for opening night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he received a text from Kevin.
“I was still asleep but then I got a call from another close friend of mine, who lives with me,” Kevon said. “He asked me, ‘What happened? Did you hear about Wati?’ So I called my brother and he kind of just told me what happened.”
The day before, Majeed’s mother found him unresponsive in the bathroom of their North Milwaukee home. It’s believed that he had fallen during a seizure, hitting his head in the process.
According to Kevin, Majeed did not have a long history of seizures, only having one in his life, six months before the accident, while driving in town. The Majeed family did not perform an autopsy due to their Muslim faith.
While Kevon opened a title-defending season with a 108-100 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State’s schedule left him unable to attend Majeed’s funeral and memorial service in Milwaukee, which was held only three days after Majeed’s death.
“It sucks that I couldn’t be there but I’m going to go to the grave site when I go back later on this year.” Kevon said. “Go see his family and just go down memory lane and reminisce to celebrate his life.”
This year, Kevon will be playing the season in Majeed’s memory. Remembering the loud, comical and selfless nature of his friend, Kevon writes “R.I.P. Wati” and “Long Live Wati” on his basketball shoes before each game.
On Thursday night, Kevon played his first game against the Bucks without Majeed watching in the stands or on television.Although Golden State suffered a 134-111 loss — their worst of the season — Kevon found individual success, scoring eight points on 2-of-3 shooting and knocking down all four free throws in 21 minutes of play.
“It tough to know that one of my friends that’s always there to talk about the game ain’t going to be there,” Kevon said. “But I know he’s watching from up above.”