Taylonn Murphy stood off to the side of the Madison Square Garden court, viewing the Murry Bergtraum girls basketball team celebrate a 14th straight title, with watery eyes behind his glasses.
He had just watched as the Lady Blazers ran around MSG with a black frame containing a large photo of his daughter, Tayshana "Chicken" Murphy, who was shot and killed in September. Murphy even received a plaque for the team's win, the one that would've gone to Tayshana. His daughter's life was being celebrated on a grand stage.
It all meant so much to a father who had suffered so much over the past six months.
"This is unimaginable, just unspeakable," Murphy said, struggling to find the right words. "There's so much I can say about these girls. I love them all. I just love these girls."
Murry Bergtraum honored its fallen teammate by winning its 14th straight Public Schools Athletic League Class AA title with a 56-48 win over McKee/SI Tech on Saturday. The Lady Blazers dedicated their season to Tayshana, who was one of the most promising prospects in New York City before she was killed in September outside her home.
"It's very special, just winning this one and doing it for her," said close friend and senior guard Shequana Harris. "I knew she would have been on the floor with me today and we'd be having fun, celebrating this together, and unfortunately she's not here. I know she's looking down and she's proud of us and the team."
Tayshana was primed for a big season for Murry Bergtraum after missing the previous season with a torn ACL. She worked with head coach Ed Grezinsky in the summer, even forgoing AAU so she could take summer school classes. Murphy said his daughter worked hard to be here for this moment, the chance to win a title at MSG.
When tragedy struck in the early hours of Sept. 11, it affected the Lady Blazers. Early on, they lost two games, a rarity for the school. Losing is almost allergic to Murry Bergtraum, but the loss of their teammate weighted on their minds. Doubts started creeping in about how good the Lady Blazers were going to be.
"We had to find our soul and character and I think we dug deep down inside and we believed in her and we knew she would be behind us and that's what she wanted," said Grezinsky, who called this title the best one yet because of the adversity his team faced. "Unfortunately, she can't be here but she's a big part of this. This is what she wanted. Without her, without this factor with her, I don't think we could have done this."
With Tayshana on their minds, and the big black photo frame right next to their bench, second-seeded Bergtraum (18-7) rallied in the fourth quarter and held off fifth-seeded MSIT (25-3) to continue their domination of the league. Harris led the way with 22 points, hitting clutch free throws down the stretch and earning MVP honors. Freshman Ashanae McLaughlin, who had to step into the lineup for Tayshana, had nine points as well as some clutch free throws.
"Shequana played like an All-city player, like an MVP," Grezinsky said.
During the course of the game, as Harris took her free throws, she would look over at the photo of Murphy, of her holding a basketball, and smile. She would say in her head that she was doing it for her friend, who she was meant to share this stage with. Before and after the game, she and her teammates donned shirts celebrating Tayshana's life, with the inscription "we will never forget" above a photo of their late friend.
On a day full of new memories, it's the one of Tayshana that meant the most.
"I know at Bergtraum, she would be playing on the big stage and they did it for her today," Murphy said. "She's in the building here. She's in the building."