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NBA Draft 2012: Iraq Veteran Begins NBA Tour of Duty with Mavericks

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NBA Draft 2012:  Iraq Veteran Begins NBA Tour of Duty with Mavericks
ROOKIE/VETERAN, AIR FORCE STAFF SGT. BERNARD JAMES

King James meet Sgt. James.

It’s one of those rare feel-good stories that really makes the fans want to stand up and cheer.  Bernard James entered the NBA draft at the ripe old age of 27.  Not since “The Admiral” David Robinson has there been a notable player coming in from the military, although in James’ case, while he is not the basketball prospect Robinson was, his path through the military has been very different.

While Robinson came out of the Naval Academy as an officer in a time of peace, James was an enlisted man who did three tours of duty in the Middle East. 

Considered a defensive specialist with a high degree of toughness, James had to endure military discipline before he decided to try the front lines of the NBA.  James enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 17 and begin his training in 100-degree heat in San Antonio, Mr. Robinson's neighborhood oddly enough.   He brought his grit back with him to Florida State, where he nearly set a number of school records despite playing only two years of college ball.   With a strong penchant for rebounds and blocked shots he still hopes to develop his offensive skills in the NBA. 

While high scoring players have always been valued in the NBA, real beasts on the defensive end are more in demand than ever, as evidenced not only by stars such as Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, but by defensive specialists along the lines of Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan.    Players such as these who are tough, can maintain position down low and make things happen on the defensive end are not the kind of role players who individually lift teams to a title but few teams secure championships without them. 

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
JAMES HOPES TO BRING HIS MILITARY DISCIPLINE TO THE NBA

James is the kind of player everyone wants to root for.  He joined the Air Force in 2003 and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. He completed three tours in the Middle East -- one in Iraq, one in Kuwait and one in Qatar and after finishing his military service, came back to get a college education, which he did.  Originally considering returning the the military as an officer, James decided to explore the opportunities in the NBA first and in the 2012 draft he was the 33rd overall selection (third pick of the second round) by the Cleveland Cavaliers.  His rights were traded during the draft to the Dallas Mavericks, where he has begun his career.

So far in the Summer League he seems to be doing largely what has been expected.

In game 1 vs. Denver,  went 4-4, recorded a game high 8 boards, and blocked 3 shots. Yet, there is definitely an adjustment to be made for James in terms of the speed of the game, which caused him to be slow on rotations and accumulate too many fouls.

In game 2 vs. the Raptors, he had a double-double, recording 13 points and 11 rebounds but had a tougher test against legitimate NBA prospect Ed Davis who scored a game-high 21.  In addition, while he was had no problem scoring inside he struggled with his midrange game.  

Despite his determination, Dallas has assembled a fairly impressive cast of post players for next season and James may have trouble getting minutes. 

Something tells me the fans will continue pulling for him. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
JAMES WAS HONORED FOR HIS COURAGE AT THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

James epitomizes the exact opposite of the type of character flaws many people feel are all too prevalent in professional athletes today.  As ESPN’s Andy Katz commented:

“James was honored with the Most Courageous Award by the United States Basketball Writers Association at the Final Four in New Orleans for his courage in uniform and the way he handled himself as a college player.”

And James has earned the right to live his dream.  "I can show that if you believe in something, you can work hard, chase it, and later in life you won't regret it," he said.   "All of my military service, the values that have been instilled in me and my regimented lifestyle all transfer over to the NBA."

My guess is we’re all hoping so.

 

-- Craig Berlin

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