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Grieving Al Jefferson will play for Jazz vs. Pistons, honoring grandmother who raised him

Gladys Jefferson meant everything to Jazz center Al Jefferson. Despite her death Sunday evening, he'll play Monday against Detroit in her honor.

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Al Jefferson said Gladys, 82, passed away unexpectedly from internal bleeding.

"She basically bled to death," Jefferson said.

He added: "It just came out of nowhere. She was laughing and joking and having a good time. It went from that to — ."

Jefferson didn't finish the sentence.

Gladys played a major role in Jefferson's upbringing in small-town Prentiss, Miss. She raised him and pushed him during his youth. She watched his high school basketball games in person, giving him tips about everything from rebounding to blocking out. And she tuned in to every one of his Jazz games via NBA League Pass — even West Coast feeds versus Los Angeles teams.

"I know she wouldn't want me to sit down and not play because of what's going on, especially not right now," said Jefferson, who expects to miss contests Saturday against Golden State and Sunday at the Lakers while attending Gladys' funeral, which will be held Friday.

Jefferson last saw his grandmother during the 2011 Thanksgiving holiday, and he jokingly thanked the NBA lockout for giving him one last memory of her.

"She hadn't cooked Thanksgiving dinner in probably the last four years and she cooked for me. … She made sure everything was perfect," Jefferson said. "We [were] joking and laughing a lot and just enjoying life. I didn't realize that was my last Thanksgiving with her."

Jefferson last spoke with his grandmother about two weeks ago, and was playing phone tag with her during the interim. Once Jefferson called and she was visiting a doctor for a checkup. Another time, she was getting her hair washed.

"I told my sister that she's got to stay [off] the roads — I was joking with her," Jefferson said. "I didn't get a chance to talk to her anymore."

Jefferson said Gladys "most definitely" played the biggest role in raising him, teaming with his other grandmother. Despite being slightly disabled, Gladys woke at 6 a.m. during the summer to wash clothes. Due to the Mississippi heat, Jefferson would wake at the same time, hitting the court while his grandmother worked. For about an hour and a half — until the sun began to rise and the heat became too much — Jefferson took his first steps toward becoming Big Al.

"She washed clothes and watched me while I played basketball by myself. Then she made me come in and eat breakfast," Jefferson said.

Gladys' eyes seldom wavered. During high school, Jefferson said he averaged 42 points a game. His grandmother watched every game. And she didn't miss anything — even his mistakes.

"She'd be mad if I miss a rebound. … She gave me tough love — exactly what I needed," Jefferson said.

Brian T. Smith

Twitter: @tribjazz

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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