September 1, 2009, - 10:08 am
If the name, Tim James, sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because he was a 1999 first round draft pick of the Miami Heat in the NBA draft. He was drafted 25th overall by the Heat and played for that team, the then-Charlotte Hornets, and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Now, he is serving America as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, and he’s stationed in Iraq. It’s a refreshing contrast with modern-day NBA players who are too busy procuring groupies, acting like they’re in rap videos, and doing other things that are detrimental to American life. Though he wasn’t a huge NBA star and didn’t start games, James made several million dollars, and he could choose an easy life now raising his son. But he chose this, instead.
The former University of Miami basketball star and former Miami Heat first-round pick enlisted in the Army a year ago, at the age of 31, and now he finds himself in the dusty, dirty center of a war. . . .
He made almost $2.5 million playing for the Heat, Hornets and 76ers. The Heat’s per diem of $113 means an NBA player gets more in meal money a season than the $2,000 a soldier of James’ specialist rank will earn in a month. More than triple, actually.
And James earned plenty playing professionally in Japan, Turkey and Israel, too. But as he traveled all over the globe playing his beloved game, seeing a world he never thought he’d see growing up poor in Miami, he didn’t learn to merely value or appreciate America’s freedoms. He decided he wanted to fight to protect them, too. . . .
James hasn’t shared his past with fellow soldiers. Quiet, remember? Humble, too. He wanted to be just another teammate. So none of James’ fellow soldiers knew he used to play pro basketball, though they all said he should have after he scorched those younger soldiers in a pickup game one day during training. He didn’t tell them after that, either. . . .
“To be able to support and defend freedom gives me great joy. A lot of people have died for something many Americans take for granted. I wake up every day knowing I’m doing something important with my life. This is so fulfilling. Keeping our country safe gives me great purpose.”
But what if that means having to kill someone?
There’s a long pause on the other end of the phone line. . . .
“As a soldier, I do as trained,” he says.
“I got my degree, lived the life I was able, have my freedom and became a professional athlete,” James said last week from Iraq. “I’m the example of the American dream.”
James is at Camp Speicher, the massive base near Tikrit, 135 kilometers north of Baghdad, not far from Saddam Hussein’s hometown and where insurgents still are a perpetual threat. For Miami Northwestern High, the Miami Hurricanes, three NBA teams and some foreign clubs, he was forward Tim James. For the Army, he’s Spc. Tim James of Task Force ODIN — short for Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize.
In layman’s terms, he’s part of the unit tasked with watching and catching the bad guys before they plant bombs. . . .
James spent years thinking about the prospects of a military career. . . .
“I think of myself as a patriot,” James said. “I wanted to give back to a country that gave so much to me.” . . .
James joined the Army on Sept. 12, 2008. The training was brutal, even for a six-foot-eight basketball player whose athleticism had drawn raves since junior high school. James slept outside in frigid night air, scaled seven-story towers, endured 15-kilometer marches (“with full battle rattle, as they say,” he said), and learned how to take apart and reassemble his weapon.
He never questioned if he was making the right decision.
“I have no doubts,” James said. “I have no regrets. Not one bit.” . . .
“The work we do, while being important to us, is made possible by the efforts of our soldiers in the Middle East,” said [Miami Heat President Pat] Riley, who coached James in his lone season with the team.
There have already been comparisons with Pat Tillman, the only other pro athlete of a major sport to serve. It’s believed that James is the first former NBA player to enlist.
And while Pat Tillman was a patriot and a hero, I hope James will come home alive . . . and that we won’t see endless Tillman Trutherism-style stuff from the James family.
Tags: basketball, Charlotte Hornet, first round draft pick, hoops, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Miami Heat, NBA, Pat Tillman, patriot, Philadelphia 76ers, pro athlete, pro athlete patriots, pro basketball, Tillman Trutherism, Tim James, Turkey, U.S. Army