The 7-0 center also scrawled the flight number on his sneakers before the Orlando Magic took on the Cleveland Cavs Sunday night.
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In addition to the president, the plane was filled with influential Polish political, military and religious leaders.
Among the nearly 100 killed in the crash were first lady Maria Kaczynski, Aleksander Szczyglo, the head of the National Security Office; Gen. Franciszek Gagor, the army chief of staff; Slawomir Skrzypek, head of the National Bank of Poland; Jerzy Szmajdzinski, the deputy parliament speaker; and Andrzej Kremer, the deputy foreign minister.
“It’s very sad,” Gortat said. “There were a lot of people putting our country on the right path to become one of the strongest and most powerful countries in Europe. Obviously, we pray for them.”
Kaczynski, 60, and his Polish delegation were traveling to Russia to honor 22,000 Polish officers slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940. It was the 70th anniversary of the Russian massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn.
Gortat’s father, Janusz, is a retired Army officer who knew Kaczynski before he became president in 2005.
Gortat learned of the crash through multiple text messages from family and friends in Poland. “It’s a tough loss for all of us,” Gortat said.
Kaczynski had been president since December 2005, after he defeated opponent Donald Tusk. The president will be buried Saturday.
Elections for the new president must now be held within 60 days. (249)