By Aiko Rose Brum
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – Five NBA and WNBA legends interacted with soldiers and their families during game four of the NBA Finals [at a special USO viewing party] at the Tropics Recreation Center [on] June 7, 2019.
The viewing party, [which was featured on television (ABC) during the national anthem], was part of [a] USO-NBA Hoops for Troops [visit to the island] featuring NBA legends Ray Allen, Roy Hibbert and Kevin Ollie, WNBA legend Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Don Nelson.
“Our freedoms are allowed because of what they do for us,” Allen said. “To show them our appreciation for what they do is so important.”
Hoops for Troops
Hoops for Troops is 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.
The program has different initiatives [but they all focus on] service men and women as their central point of service.
According to McWilliams-Franklin, some of the initiatives are in “partnership with the USO, coming to bases, [meeting service members] and…being a part of what they do, and just telling them ‘thank you’.
Other Hoops for Troops initiatives include camps and clinics, and visits to hospitals like Walter Reed.
Two [of the visiting stars] have direct connections with the military.
Allen’s father served 26 years in the Air Force, so he traveled the world as a youngster. McWilliams-Franklin has several relatives who have served.
"My mom was stationed here [in Hawaii],” McWilliams-Franklin said, explaining her mother had served some 30 some years ago, when she was 12.
My mom, my father, my husband’s brother-in-law [were or are] all in the Army.“
USO Tour of Schofield Barracks
[Before the viewing party,] Hoops for Troops players and coaches started their day at the USO Schofield Barracks. There, they met [with] and greeted fans, took photos and learned what the local USO accomplishes for personnel who visit the center.
"Having the NBA here boosts the morale,” said Ricky Tucay, the USO Schofield Barracks center manager.
“We have soldiers here who have [a] 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.”
Before departing Schofield Barracks, players answered a couple burning questions from super fans before heading on with their day.
“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.”
- This story originally appeared on DVIDS. It has been edited for style, grammar and brevity.