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.
LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.
Paul George never said that, though.
So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.
Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:
Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational
When you were just a kid
In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale
We were dreaming too.
While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival
And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.
Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.
The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too
Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?
My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?
That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?
Sam Amick of USA Today:
As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.
Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.
Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.
Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.
LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.
But maybe once is enough.
Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.
league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.
LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.
If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.
This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.
The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.
The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.
But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:
This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.
Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.
That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.
Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.
As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.
Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.