On Thursday evening at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. chants of “USA, USA,” erupted as Bernard James of Florida State University became one of 60 players selected in the 2012 NBA draft. James was selected 33rd overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers before quickly being traded to the Dallas Mavericks. James is a 27 year old man among boys in this year’s draft. James is the oldest college basketball player selected in the past 20 years. With his selection in the draft, James exceeded Dikembe Mutumbo, who turned 25 years old a day after being drafted in 1991. James took the road less traveled to get the NBA, but it is what makes his story unparalleled.
As a former Active Duty Security Forces member myself, I can’t help but root for James. Prior to becoming a NBA player, James had a life most only watch on TV. Bernard completed a full six-year term as a Blue-Beret Security Forces member in the United States Air Force. His performance earned him the rank of a Non Commissioned Officer in the form of a Staff Sergeant. James answered his nations call by serving three tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar.
In Bernard’s first deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was put to the test by guarding detainees and possible insurgents at Camp Bucca, Iraq. In Qatar, he secured some of our nations priority resources. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, James was given the strenuous task of protecting base populous. These experiences and life lessons separate James from ordinary college and now NBA players. Not only does Bernard’s life- experience set him apart from his peers, his age does too. At the mature age of 27, most athletes are reaching their proverbial “peak”, while their decline may be just a couple of years away from all of the wear and tear of consecutive play on their bodies. Don’t let this worry you; James only has two years of college basketball on his body. “My age is misleading, I don’t have years and years of basketball on my body,” James said. “I didn’t play in middle school or high school. I didn’t play years of AAU basketball. Some of these guys have played year-round and beat their bodies up.”
Ironically, James never played competitive basketball until he joined the Armed Forces. “The first time I picked up a ball was when I was 14 or 15 years old. I knew how to play, but I had never played competitively or anything” James said. “When I joined the military, I had a supervisor, Erick Dumas. On the first day of work, he asked me if I played basketball. I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You do now.’” I myself have given this same order to a troop who harbored the necessary skills needed to provide a win. James goes into detail about his first experience as a basketball player in the Armed Forces, “That night, I showed up to the intramural basketball game and had a bunch of blocks, dunks, and rebounds. We just destroyed the other team. All of the guys that I work with were congratulating me and they were so happy that I was playing with them. That kind of got me locked in, that’s where it all started. After that, I would go to the gym to shoot and mess around with those guys. That’s really how I started to develop.”
I can attest to this fact; military intramural sports can be incredibly tense. I have fallen victim to these matchups. One of which resulted in an extraordinarily large “bump” on my forehead; due to a rival player feeling the need to drop an elbow on it while playing intramural basketball. There is a nauseating picture of it floating around somewhere (TSgt Horne). The reason military intramural sports are so competitive is because it is squadron vs. squadron, platoon vs. platoon, squad vs. squad and the urge to prove ones career field or division is better than the next is at an all-time high. With this being said, one can see how Bernard fell in love with basketball.
After James realized he had talent he began to take the game seriously. He had aspirations to play at the college level so he could obtain a degree and make his parents even prouder of his accomplishments. In 2005, James put on a basketball clinic at the U.S. Armed Forces All-Star tournament. His performance on the court caught the attention of Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, who happened to be in Las Vegas for the tournament. After seeing Bernard perform, Hamilton offered the star Center a full-ride scholarship.
During his two-year season with the Seminoles, James led his team to its first ACC basketball championship title in school history; defeating college basketball Goliaths, Duke and North Carolina. Bernard also led his team to two appearances in the NCAA tournament averaging 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks his senior year.
When James was asked about the first time he realized he may have a shot in the NBA he stated “The NBA wasn’t even a thought for me. For me, I was just thinking about earning a scholarship and getting into college.” James said.” I wanted to earn my degree. That was my main focus. That was my entire motivation up until I got to Florida State. The thought of playing in the NBA didn’t come into play until after my first season with the Seminoles. Going into my senior year, that’s when I realized that it could happen and I started focusing on making it to the NBA.”
When James was asked about what makes him different from other players besides his age he stated “A lot of these kids haven’t seen a whole lot in their lives. For many of them, all they know is basketball. They’ve been playing since they were about eight years old and they don’t realize what it’s like in the real world, having a real job and working for $30,000 or $40,000 a year. I’ve definitely learned not to let a single day go to waste.”
James will make incredible contributions to last year’s NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks, both on the court and in the locker room. Bernard deserves respect for what he has done for this country and the road he took to become a NBA player. While most would take advantage of the position James is in; he won’t. Bernard will embrace this opportunity of a lifetime and put his best efforts on the floor. James, thanks for proving hard work is still a valuable quality and nothing should be handed out. Good-luck Bernard James, you have your fellow Security Forces members rooting for you, along with the rest of the Armed Forces.