- The LSU community, Baton Rouge, a local high school and a team were all rocked by the news of Tigers' forward Wayde Sims's death on Friday.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Micah Green walked LSU’s campus alone and without a purpose. This was a walk of grief, a fruitless pursuit down tree-lined pathways and through bustling courtyards. He wandered near the student union, cut across grassy lawns, peered inside the basketball arena and then—BAM!—it hit him, and he stopped. He glared at the Tiger Stadium video board, flickering overhead, on it a message honoring LSU basketball player Wayde Sims, gunned down overnight in an act of violence caught on chilling video. “I don’t know what I was looking for on campus,” Green says. “I saw his face on that screen, and I wept to myself.” His walk of grief did have an end. The disturbing news his sister delivered to him hours before sunk in—his friend was dead.
This place was rocked Friday. A community, a high school, a university, a team, they all mourned the slaying of a 20-year-old known for his wide smile and jokester ways. “I’ve been doing this for over 40 years,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told reporters at a somber news conference Friday morning. “This may be the saddest day of my career.”
Police say Sims was shot during a fistfight that unfolded around 12:30 a.m. Friday across the street from the Southern University football stadium, about 12 miles north of LSU. He died at a nearby hospital. By Friday afternoon, the crime scene tape was gone, replaced by a makeshift roadside memorial on Harding Boulevard—two bouquets of flowers and a small orange basketball, all resting just a foot from bloodstained grass.
The grisly marker is dropped into a celebratory atmosphere here this week. It is homecoming Saturday at Southern, the SWAC program that shares this city with its bigger SEC brother. An SU fraternity party is cranking up nearby, and football practice is occurring across the street. Nearby homes are decked out in school colors, blue and gold, and “Go Jags!” flags are flapping from a line of vehicles entering campus.
“We’ve had people come by just to say, ‘It happened here!?’” says Tameka Williams, an employee at the Subway restaurant that sits closest to the crime scene. The shooting didn’t happen here, she has told those inquiring (Subway was closed by that late hour), but it happened out there, she points through a front window and over 100 feet of concrete before the memorial is visible. “There is still blood out there,” she grimaces. “It’s so very sad, parents having to bury their children. My mom had to bury a son because of gun violence. He was 22.”
Sims would have been 21 in December. His death sent a tidal wave of grief through this place in what’s supposed to be a jubilant time. The LSU basketball team was scheduled to hold their first official practice at 2:30 p.m. (it was canceled). The football team, ranked No. 5 nationally and with a 4-0 record, hosts bitter rival Ole Miss on Saturday (a moment of silence will be had for Sims). A public unveiling of a statue of the program’s only Heisman Trophy winner, the late Billy Cannon, was set for Friday afternoon (the ceremony became private).
Sims was not a normal basketball player. Sims was a legacy here, the son of Wayne Sims, who played for the Tigers in 1988-91 with teammates like Shaquille O’Neal and Stanley Roberts and a coach named Dale Brown. Wayde made his own mark first at University Lab School, a high school on LSU’s campus that falls under the umbrella of the university’s college of education. “It’s shocking. It’s tragic. It hits so close,” says Joe Spencer, Wayde’s coach at University Lab. Wayde led the Cubs to three consecutive Class 3A state championships during his final three seasons in 2014-16. He dunked as a sixth-grader, started on varsity as a 6-foot-6 eighth-grader and eventually set the school’s all-time points record (3,045) on 1,204 field goals made.
“He’s a legacy here,” says Green, 24. Green was a senior for the Cubs when Wayde was an eighth-grade starter and then he served as an assistant for Spencer during Wayde’s high school run. Those days were fun. Wayde was a freak, a guy who beat everyone in bowling without using the balance holes on a bowling ball. He’d grip it with his large hand and hum it down the alley. “I swear he’d bowl strikes at 30 miles per hour,” says Green. And you didn’t want to play Wayde in dodgeball. University Lab’s hoops locker room often turned host to a dodgeball tournament after practices, and Wayde fired volleyballs so hard that “you hoped you were on his team,” Green says.
He was the only player on the team who could work Spencer out of a bad mood, forcing the coach to crack a smile at one of his wisecracks. “He could get me,” the 43-year-old Spencer admits in an interview from his office Friday. “He knew how to get every person in his own way.” He did the best impression of LSU basketball coach Will Wade, Wade said in the news conference at LSU Friday. “Everybody liked him. Anybody you came in contact with, just loved his personality,” Wade said. “A blast to be around.”
He was one of the few guys on the LSU basketball team with a car. He’d drive everyone around, Wade says, including trips to Walmart or toting furniture during a move. Just two days ago, he met with reporters during a media event, the same day that Wade put the Tigers through a high-ropes conditioning course. “We got some guys scared of heights,” Wade said. “He’s not scared of heights.” Wayde’s LSU passion ran deep. He had tattooed on his arm the school’s mascot, a Tiger, and the city’s area code, 225.
On the court, he was a phenom who was ambidextrous, possessing the ability to use both his right and left hands. He started in junior high on the inside controlling the post before coaches moved him outside later in his career. In 2016, he signed with LSU and coach Johnny Jones, Sims’s cousin and a close friend to the family. Jones was fired after his freshman season, and he had to work, Spencer says, to stay on the team under new coach Wade. On the precipice of Wayde’s third season with the Tigers, “the light bulb” had come on, Green says. During the news conference at LSU, Wade acknowledged the strides his junior forward had recently taken. “He was on an upward trajectory. This was a tough one. Taken too soon.”
That’s what vexes Green: Why was he out so late before a scheduled 6:30 a.m. workout? Police say Wayde and friends had attended a fraternity party near Southern before the fight. Southern also held a concert Thursday night featuring hip-hop and R&B stars Yo Gotti, MoneyBagg Yo and Avant. “Wayde,” Green asks aloud, “why were you there?” Video of the incident shows Wayde out-manned, as many as six men circling around him before a gunshot is heard. Wayde collapses to the ground, and the video abruptly ends.
Wade was one of the first to find out the news, and he rushed to the hospital only to learn of his player’s death. It spread from there. An LSU administrator called Jones, now the coach at Texas Southern, around 1 a.m. Twelve hours later, Jones spoke to a reporter while on the four-hour drive from Houston to Baton Rouge to be with the Sims family. He had spoken to both Fay and Wayne Sims. Jones and Wayne are related through Jones’s father, they grew up together in the small town of DeRidder, Louisiana. “They’re in a real tough place right now,” Jones says of Fay and Wayne. “Just devastated and saddened by it all. You deal with it as best we can. They’re struggling right now. That’s why I’m en route to be with them.” Another former LSU coach, Brown, was preparing to visit the Sims’ home as well. He learned of the news from the media. “I about dropped dead,” Brown says. “I’ve known that little boy since he was a baby. Good kid. Good humor. Good dad. Just a shock. Beyond a shock.”
Ricky Blanton last saw Wayde Sims in August. Blanton played with Wayne Sims at LSU. He was close enough to the Sims family that he’d often watch LSU basketball games with them in their corner of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, all 30-plus Sims in their Wayde T-shirts and jerseys. “The Sims and basketball are connected here,” Blanton says. He remembers it took Wayde until his sophomore year in high school to finally regularly beat his pop in a one-on-one game. “When he got that point where he was better than his dad, he was going to let everyone know,” Blanton chuckles.
At one point, Spencer remembers telling Wayne during a practice, “You know, he can now jump higher than you now.” Spencer didn’t just lose a former player. His 12-year-old son Bobby Spencer lost a friend. Whether it was returning to University Lab or after an LSU game, Wayde would always rush to Joe’s son with the same smile and greeting, “Hey Bobby!” Wayde was Bobby’s favorite player. Joe Spencer delivered the news to his son this morning before the two arrived at school. “It was tough,” he says.
Green’s walk through campus ended back at University Lab and seated in a courtyard with a reporter. His sister woke him up with the news early Friday morning. He rolled over, closed tear-filled eyes and drifted back to sleep. “You want to wake up and hope it didn’t happen,” Green says. “I knew that wasn’t going to happen.”