America Supports You: ‘Hoops for Troops’ Helps Wounded Veterans Rebound
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2006 USA Basketball teamed up with the Defense Department’s America Supports You program Dec. 15 to support wounded servicemembers.
Former U.S. Olympic basketball player Sam Perkins (right) chats with Army Capt. Scott Smiley before the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat basketball game in Washington on Dec. 15. The NBA hosted several wounded warriors, including Smiley, at the game as part of "Hoops for Troops," an America Supports You program connecting basketball players with servicemembers and their family members around the world. Photo by Carmen L. Burgess
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The America Supports You program highlights support for U.S. military members and their families.
“Hoops for Troops” brought 14 wounded veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here to dine at the Verizon Center’s Acela Club with former National Basketball Association players and sit in skybox suites to watch the Washington Wizards beat the Miami Heat 106-92.
Basketball players are performers, but U.S. servicemembers are the real heroes, Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards point guard who scored 27 points in Washington’s victory, told American Forces Press Service. “They’re out there fighting; we’re out there entertaining,” Arenas said. “So when (troops) show up to games, we show our support.”
The visitors’ locker room was quiet after Miami’s loss, and Heat center Shaquille O’Neal shied away from reporters’ basketball questions. But O’Neal, whose father served in the U.S. Army during Shaquille’s childhood, told American Forces Press Service of his gratitude for U.S. servicemembers.
“I think it’s good for people to want to protect the country,” O’Neal said. “Yesterday I met three or four amputees who said they want to go back. Those are the guys I want protecting our country.”
Army Capt. Keith Bracey worked as a Wizards team assistant until he was deployed in 2002. During active duty in Iraq, Bracey was injured when his Humvee was ambushed in Baghdad in 2003. When he returned to the U.S., the Wizards welcomed him home.
“People here heard that I had gotten hurt,” Bracey said, “so I started working with some of the team doctors and physical therapists to try to get better. … Mentally, it’s a big part of (the recovery); it’s like a big family here.”
Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was on hand to thank troops and NBA participants.
“It is spectacular what they do for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and for our wounded troops in particular,” Giambastiani said, referring to USA Basketball and the NBA. “You go to any base anywhere in the world you see the troops following these professional sports. Basketball has been very supportive of this, and we just can’t thank them enough.”
Army Capt. D.J. Skelton, a platoon leader in the 25th Infantry Division in Fallujah, Iraq, lost his left eye and suffered other injuries in a rocket-propelled-grenade attack. He was one of the wounded veterans in attendance at the game.
“Both the military and the teams that represent the United States share that patriotism,” Skelton said. “They’re representing this country, but they’re doing it from two different mechanisms.
“When basketball players, who almost live in a world among themselves, … come down and put themselves on the same level as soldiers, … it just solidifies the fact that this country really does appreciate what soldiers do,” Skelton said.
But the partnership between USA Basketball and America Supports You extends far beyond U.S. boundaries, Kim Bohuney, vice president of NBA Basketball Operations International, said. “Any time an NBA or WNBA player goes abroad, we always ask them, ‘Would you mind stopping by to see our men and women (in uniform)?’” Bohuney said.
NBA and WNBA players who have visited military hospitals and bases around the world have always loved the experience, she said. Seven-foot-7-inch former NBA player Gheorghe Muresan has visited with U.S. troops serving in his home country, Romania, and frequently attends Wizards games with Walter Reed patients.
“We do the best we can to help them forget their pain and be happy and enjoy themselves,” Muresan said. “They give part of their lives to save us, … so we give as much as we can to them.”