CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Atlanta Hawks set everything up as if Jason Collier were there, carefully hanging his uniform in an empty locker and setting out a chair for him. They plan to do that at every game this year, home or away.
But Collier's absence was painfully obvious Monday when the Hawks lost a preseason game to the Charlotte Bobcats.
The 28-year-old center died suddenly early Saturday in his home.
"We have his stuff hanging up, and I have an armband and put him on my shoes," Hawks forward Al Harrington said, pointing to the RIP JC 40 written on his sneakers, "but then you look up and he's not there. So it's weird and something we're going to have to deal with.
"No matter what, though, we're going to do our best to keep him with us this entire year."
The Hawks are just beginning the difficult healing process that comes with the loss of a popular teammate. Collier left behind a wife, young daughter and a lifetime of memories for his teammates.
"I don't think you guys realize sometimes how connected we really are in that locker room," said Harrington, who has dedicated his season to Collier. "We are a family. We lost a brother. The only consolation we have is that he left us making sure no one can ever say a bad thing about him, because Jason was such a good person."
The 7-foot Collier was a part-time starting center the last two seasons for Atlanta. He spent three years in Houston, and began his college career at Indiana before transferring to Georgia Tech.
Forsyth County Coroner Lauren McDonald III said his office is pulling Collier's medical records from the Rockets and Hawks and forwarding that information to the pathologist, but foul play is not suspected. Collier's family has asked that results of his autopsy be kept private until after Wednesday's funeral.