The members of Great Britain’s basketball team stood side by side, their arms slung over each other’s shoulders, coaches on one end of the row, players on the other.
For 45 seconds before their EuroBasket game in Milan on Thursday afternoon, they listened to the national anthem of Great Britain, with the crescendo building toward the traditional finish.
”God save the Queen,” some of them sang, perhaps for the final time.
It was a most unusual set of circumstances to play a basketball game, a group of 12 representing their nation less than two hours after the death of Queen Elizabeth II – Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, one who held the throne for 70 years – was announced.
The outcome didn’t matter much: the team lost to Italy, 90-56.
”I mean, she’s the only leader of our nation that we’ve known,” Great Britain forward Dan Clark said. ”The amount of respect that she has and the way she’s carried herself as a leader for so many years and in such a long reign, it’s remarkable.”
Many other sporting events in Britain were called off once the Queen’s passing was announced, including some golf, cricket, horse racing, rugby and cycling competitions.
In Milan, the Queen’s life was remembered pregame, a hastily assembled tribute by EuroBasket organizers. After the anthems played and a brief warm-up session took place, the starters from both teams gathered at midcourt just before tip-off for a moment of silence.
Fans applauded politely while a brief tribute to the Queen was read, and then the arena went completely quiet for about 30 seconds. Some in the crowd held the British flag in the air. Britain’s players stood together in a semi-circle, hands clasped behind their backs for the moment.
”It’s just hard,” said Britain coach Nathan Reinking, who was born in Ohio and holds dual British-American citizenship. ”That’s who you play for. You play for the country. And she’s been at the forefront for so many years … it was a different, challenging situation to go through.”
Britain (0-5) had already been eliminated from the knockout round of the tournament, which serves as the European championships. There were 24 teams that made the group stage; only 16 go to Berlin this weekend to start the next round.
That means it’s unclear when the next instance of the team standing for the national anthem before a game will take place. But when that happens, now in honor of King Charles III, the anthem will build toward a new ending.
It’ll be ”God save the King” now.
”It was a strange, difficult moment,” Reinking said. ”You just get through it.”
Follow AP coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii