By Joseph Staszewski
The emotions rushed back to Kasim Alston as he lit a candle on the park court where his goddaughter and former girls’ hoops star Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy grew up playing before her death.
“Honestly, it doesn’t seem that it’s real, even though a year has past,” Alston said. “I just don’t understand this. I just don’t understand why she isn’t here.”
He and dozens of Murphy’s family and friends remembered the former Bishop Loughlin and Murry Bergtraum standout at the Queensbridge Houses Sept. 11 for the one-year anniversary of her death. They placed pictures of Murphy around the court and lit candles before joining in prayer. Murphy’s immediate family visited her grave later in the day. The 18-year-old was shot and killed in the hallway of Harlem’s Grant Houses in a gang-related incident during the early morning hours a year ago.
“I had a tougher time leading up to that [anniversary],” Alston said. “It brought back some hard times during the day. I just had to toughen up and fight throughout it.”
Murphy’s death sent shockwaves through the city’s girls’ basketball community at the time and last week many players posted about her on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. She was one of the top-ranked seniors in the country in her class. Before the incident she was getting ready to start her senior season at Bergtraum after recovering from a torn ACL.
Murphy, who had her tuition at Loughlin paid for by Los Angeles Lakers star Metta World Peace, was a citywide name as a freshman. She transferred to the now-closed St. Michael Academy in the middle of her sophomore year before heading to Bergtraum, for which she never got to play.
“We never thought we would lose anybody like that,” Loughlin senior Imani Tate said. “That’s what I thought about. We wanted to celebrate the time that she was with us.”
Neither Loughlin nor Bergtraum did anything officially to remember Murphy. Lady Blazers Coach Ed Grezinsky said a number of his players wore the “Chicken” warm-up shirts they used during the season and some hung pictures of Murphy around their necks. She garnered the nickname because of her bowlegs that made her walk like a chicken. Bergtraum dedicated last season’s run to a 14th-straight PSAL Class AA city title and state Federation final to Murphy. Loughlin did the same as it went on to win the state Federation Class A crown.
“It’s hard to accept that someone with so much life and so much to live for is just gone just like that,” Grezinsky said. “It’s still kind of hard.”
Murphy continued to be remembered in other ways throughout the year. Bergtraum retired her number and Alston and her father Taylonn helped organize a girls’ basketball tournament over the summer with games played in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Still, things like that only do so much good for those who knew her.
“It’s always there, that emptiness,” Taylon Murphy said.
For Alston, however, that day is not about what could have been for Murphy, the promise she never got to fulfill.
“At this time she should have been starting her college career,” Alston said. “Just seeing everyone else moving forward, it’s hard.”