SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Five NBA and WNBA legends interacted with U.S. Army Hawaii Soldiers and family members during game four of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors at the Tropics Recreation Center, here, June 7.
The game, telecast on the ABC network from Oakland, Calif., broadcast the idols and fans standing for the national anthem in the Tropics as three-time Grammy award winning artist Ne-Yo performed "The Star Spangled Banner" on the mainland court. Afterwards, the local Tropics audience cheered and converged upon the players and coaches for autographs and photos.
Many fans like Brianna Garner with 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division were overcome with emotion and fully expressed their joy.
The players were delighted.
"Our freedoms are allowed because of what they do for us," said Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame player Ray Allen. "To show them our appreciation for what they do is so important."
Allen -- along with NBA legends Roy Hibbert and Kevin Ollie, WNBA legend Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Don Nelson -- is part of Hoops for Troops, the year-round NBA initiative that honors active and retired service members and their families in collaboration with the Department of Defense, the USO and TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
Two in the crew have direct connections with the military. Allen's father served 26 years in the Air Force, so he travelled the world as a youngster. McWilliams-Franklin has several relatives who have served.
"My mom, my father, my husband's brother-in-law, all in the Army. My mom was stationed here (in Hawaii)," she said, explaining her mother had served some 30 some years ago, when she was 12.
The Hoops for Troops players and coaches started their day at the USO Schofield Barracks. There, they met and greeted fans, took photos and learned what the local USO accomplishes for personnel who visit the center.
Ricky Tucay, center manager, USO Schofield Barracks, pointed out the computers, a gaming and separate theater room, smart TVs with fiber optics, light snacks and morale boosters like birthday cake delivery that entertain incoming USO patrons and help them relax after a long day.
Later, Tucay said, "Having the NBA here boosts the morale. We have Soldiers here who have major interest in basketball. They're so honored to be able to meet some of these legends they would normally not have met unless the USO leadership brought them over to Schofield."
Hoops for Troops has different initiatives, the players explained. They all have service men and women as their central point of service, explained McWilliams-Franklin.
"Different teams go to different places," added Coach Nelson.
Some of the initiatives are "partnership with the USO, coming to bases, and just 'touching' our service men and women, and just meeting them ... being a part of what they do, and just telling them 'thank you,'" said McWilliams-Franklin.
Other Hoops for Troops initiatives include camps and clinics, and visits to hospitals like Walter Reed.
Teams always usually "salute the troops before the games, bringing our colors out," said Allen. "There's always a great presence of our military men and women around our games."
"Just seeing the interaction of family members, just as much as those men and women going overseas, they're protecting our rights, here. It's actually fun to interact with them because they're all basketball fans, and we appreciate the sacrifices that they make," said Hibbert.
"We come in and we think we're giving the gift to them; we actually get the gift," said Coach Ollie. "When I go back to my hotel, I feel so much joy inside my spirit. They come out here and give it their all. They give their service to us; they go away from their families and deploy. For us to show our awareness to them and give back means the world to me."
Before departing Schofield Barracks, players answered a couple burning questions from super fans.
Yes, Allen was part of the Big Three in Boston. It was a different dynamic when he was in Boston. He was part of the top tier, relied upon. In Miami, there was already a Big Three, so he was more so a complimentary player.
All three coaches -- Nelson, Ollie and McWilliams-Franklin -- said transitioning from a player to a coach was different, if not "pretty difficult."
"When I got on that other side, it was about the family members; it was 24/7. It was recruiting, it was taking care of your players, because they're like your kids, as well, and then their families. Boosters ... different events you have to attend, and it was very time consuming. Plus, you had your own family at home, so you had to have the balance of that, too." said Ollie.
Allen provided final comments.
"When you make it to the highest level of your profession, you feel like you can do anything. You feel invincible. When I had the opportunity to film 'He Got Game,' I was a kid all over again and a novice, trying to figure out how to act."
Allen explained his instincts on being competitive finally kicked in. Denzel Washington was the great point guard and Spike Lee was the great coach, but he allowed himself to act what he knew how to accomplish the right way and successfully -- just playing basketball.