Remembering NBA Players who served in the military

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On Memorial Day, a day set aside for remembering the sacrifices people have made for our freedom and the chance to do things like watch NBA games, it seemed fitting to look back at NBA players who served in the military.

Because the NBA was formed after World War II, the NBA does not have the long list of players who left the game in wartime to serve. But there are some who have. (Many of the early NBA players in the 1949 season had been in college during the war, or in the case of some had simply been too tall to serve.)

But there are some who have served before and after. (What follows is an incomplete list.)

David Robinson. “The Admiral” is by far the best known of this group, a star at the Naval Academy who spent a couple years in the service as a civil engineering officer at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia before moving on to the NBA. For the record, “the Admiral” was really a Lieutenant, Junior Grade. After leaving the Navy he has continued as a reserve for years and still helps with recruiting. As a player, well, he’s in the Hall of Fame, that should tell you how his career went.

Tim James. Earlier this season the Miami Heat honored their former first-round draft pick. He was drafted in 1999 but after his NBA career fizzled (and after a couple seasons playing in Europe) he joined the army and has done a tour of duty in Iraq.

Mike Silliman. The only NBA player ever to graduate from the United States Military Academy (West Point). The small forward was a member of the 1968 United States Olympic Team that won the gold medal and played in several other international tournaments for the United States. He was selected in the eighth round of the NBA draft in 1966 draft by the Knicks (yes, there was an eighth round back then) but he played just one season, the 1970-71 season with the Buffalo Braves.

Connie Norman. He highlights a larger issue we face in our nation — homeless veterans. Norman was a former Arizona star in college who was drafted by Philadelphia in 1974. He played in part of three NBA seasons (the last in 1979 with the San Diego Clippers). After the Clippers cut him he joined the army, where he was stationed in Germany. After that he played several seasons professionally in Europe. Three decades later he was homeless, living on the streets in Los Angeles due to drug problems. He got clean and was living in a facility to help get homeless off the street in Detroit.

Pelicans draft Zion Williamson with No. 1 overall pick in 2019 NBA Draft

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The 2019 NBA draft started the way we thought it would. On Thursday as the draft got underway, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Duke phenom freshman Zion Williamson with the first overall selection.

Speaking to TV cameras after he was selected, Williamson broke into tears as he gave credit to his mother for helping him get to where he is today.

Williamson will join an ever-changing cast and crew in Louisiana. He will no doubt be the player David Griffin builds around for years to come: Williamson will be surrounded by Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart… for now.

It’s not clear what position he’ll play at first. Williamson is an athletic body but isn’t very tall; he’s also not an elite dribbler or shooter, so dreams of him being a true point forward might be just that. Plus, the experiment of a giant, non-shooting point forward didn’t go all that well with Ben Simmons for the Philadelphia 76ers this year.

But that’s not to say Williamson won’t be dynamic. It’s defense where Williamson’s greatest intrigue lies, at least to start. There’s hope that he can become an elite defender over time — some have compared his entry to the NBA to that of Draymond Green. But that side of the floor is usually where rookies struggle, even if they have help like the Pelicans will this season. His lack of experience will probably get him left out of some plays in his rookie season, but he won’t get bullied by NBA players out of the gate. That’s a complete misnomer. Williamson’s size and instincts, as we saw during his one year at Duke, will help him disrupt NBA offenses from day one.

 

Williamson was the only choice at No. 1, and now the Pelicans can rebuild in the wake of Anthony Davis. It won’t take them very long.

Meanwhile Griffin has done significant wheeling and dealing leading up to the draft. On Thursday it was announced that he had turned the No. 4 overall pick gained in the Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers into Nos. 8, 17, and 35 in a swap with the Atlanta Hawks. With that move, the Hawks became the third team in the Davis extravaganza.

Report: Hawks getting No. 4 pick locks Lakers-Pelicans Anthony Davis trade into July 6 completion

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The Lakers reportedly didn’t negotiate the Anthony Davis trade date with the Pelicans – an important consideration. That apparently left it in New Orleans’ hands, and the Pelicans flipping the No. 4 pick to the Hawks means the Davis trade will be completed the first allowable day.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Lakers now project to have about $24 million in cap room.

Maybe they can get more by including other players in the trade, but that would make the deal even costlier for the Lakers. Davis could also waive his trade kicker, but first, they’d need to ask him. He might refuse.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka apparently agreed to put his team into this situation. But it’s hard to believe he fully understood the implications when he did.

2019 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The NBA Draft saw the trade of the No. 4 pick — twice — plus the No. 6 and 11 picks before the New Orleans Pelicans were even on the clock for the No. 1 pick. Listening to the buzz around the league, expect a lot more first-round trades, especially when we get into the 20s. It’s going to be a crazy night.

We will be on top of it all night long.

Here is a breakdown of every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings.

 
Pelicans small icon No. 1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, 6’7” forward, Duke. The highest rated prospect out of college since Anthony Davis for many scouts, Williamson can be the cornerstone the Pelicans need to rebuild post-Davis. Williamson is a ridiculous athlete, strong, can leap out of the building, but also shows a point guard’s feel for the game and he defends very well. His shot is improved but he’s got to be more consistent and he needs to add range, however, with his work ethic it should come along. What some scouts like best: He plays hard, he doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

 
Grizzlies small icon No. 2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, 6’3” point guard, Murray State. The Grizzlies are banking on him to be their point guard of the future (especially with Mike Conley traded to Utah). He’s an explosive athlete, has a tremendous handle, impressive court vision and he knows how to make every pass you can think of. He’s got to improve his jump shot to avoid being another athletic point guard that defenders just go under the pick against. He was asked to score a lot in college, he needs to show a more rounded game at the next level.

 
Knicks small icon No. 3. New York Knicks: R.J. Barrett, 6’7” wing, Duke. With all the talent on the Blue Devils roster last season, Barrett was the guy Coach K ran the offense through, which says something. He had an incredibly efficient season: better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game, and as Sam Vecenie of the Athletic said, the last guy with those numbers in college was Penny Hardaway. How his game fits in the NBA, where he will play more of a role, will be the test, but he has the potential to be a wing in New York for many years.

 
Hawks small icon No. 4. Atlanta Hawks (via Lakers and Pelicans): De’Andre Hunter, 6’8” wing, Virginia. This pick was traded twice, and while the Lakers are making it is ultimately being done for the Hawks so we will list it that way. One of the best defensive players in this draft, he’s got good athleticism, he’s physical and long at 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan. He’s not going to be a future superstar, but what he can be is a quality starter/rotation player who is a defensive stopper and can knock down threes (better than 45 percent from deep this season). He is a willing role player who can help a team as a rookie.

 
Cavaliers small icon No. 5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland, 6’3” point guard, Vanderbilt. He only played in five games in college due to a knee injury, still teams love his potential as a shot creator and shooter. He’s got impressive handles, plays at different speeds to create space, has a good pull-up jumper, and has potential to effectively run an offense. He has got to limit the turnovers at the NBA level, and he’s a bit of a project, but there is a lot of potential here.

 
No. 6. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Suns):

Sounds like Cavaliers will draft Darius Garland No. 5 if they don’t trade pick

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The top of the draft has become clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

4. Hawks: De'Andre Hunter

What will the Cavaliers do at No. 5?

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Those follow-up reports emerged quickly and from multiple reporters. The Cavaliers apparently want to make it very clear they’re open to trading the pick.

For good reason.

My highest-rated prospects available are both point guards: Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White. Cleveland already has Collin Sexton, last year’s lottery pick, at point guard.

I generally favor drafting the best prospect available then figuring it out. Sexton isn’t good enough to justify deviating from that.

But this situation demands the Cavs explore trading the pick – or Sexton. Cleveland shouldn’t just blindly walk into a conundrum.

Still, it seems if the Cavaliers don’t find a trade, they’ll make the smart move and draft Garland.