FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Fort Bragg was home to the NBA for a couple of days as basketball greats visited the installation to thank Soldiers and their Families for their service. Michael Jordan, now the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, was the star attraction, visiting Fort Bragg schools, wounded warriors, riggers with the 11th Quartermaster Company and speaking at Pope Air Force Base's Commander's Call Oct. 6. The visit culminated with an exhibition game at Fayetteville's Crown Coliseum between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Charlotte LadyCats and mascot Rufus set the stage, visiting the installation Oct. 2 and hosting a drawing for tickets to the upcoming game. Not to be outdone, the Oklahoma City Thunder visited Fort Bragg a few days later to sign autographs and shoot some hoops with fans at Dahl Gym.
Rory Saliger, a 15-year-old, 10th grader who plays basketball at Western Harnett High School and a Fort Bragg Family member, got the chance to team up with forward Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder, who led the league in scoring during the 2009-10 season. Saliger said it was the chance of a lifetime.
"It was really cool," said Saliger, after Durant signed an autograph and posed for a picture with him. "I got to play basketball with Kevin Durant."
The next day was filled with surprises, as Irwin Intermediate School and Albritton Junior High School prepared for a visit from the LadyCats and Rufus. Both schools erupted into cheers when they saw Michael Jordan, who was a surprise visitor, walk up.
Jordan stressed the importance of education when he talked with the students.
"I know it may seem unimportant now, but pay attention to your teachers. You can't succeed without a good education," said Jordan.
He chuckled as he admitted that none of the students really knew him as a basketball player.
"You probably all only remember me from Space Jam," he said.
The questions he received from the students ran the gamut from what his shoe size was to what it was like working with Bugs Bunny. It was during his visit to the Pack Shed where he faced more challenging questions about what he thought about how much he got paid versus what players get paid now and who he thought the best player in basketball was right now ("Kobe Bryant").
Jordan watched the riggers pack a parachute and admitted that he couldn't see himself ever jumping out of a plane. He thanked the Soldiers for what they do and said that perseverance is necessary for success.
Jordan was humble about being referred to as the best in basketball and credited coach Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina for recognizing his ability and making him into the player he became.
Jordan drove himself around the installation during his visit and sat at courtside watching the game that night. While the Thunder topped the Bobcats, 97-93, both teams provided a winning experience for the Soldiers and Family members who attended the game. Each team shook the hands of Soldiers who lined the court and stood by them as the National Anthem played.
The Bobcats and Fort Bragg's community relations chief, Frank Hanan, say they hope to organize another visit to the installation in the future.