As part of the "Hoops for Troops" program, NBA and WNBA legends Lenny Wilkens, Teresa Edwards, Alonzo Mourning and Sam Perkins visited Walter Reed Bethesda recently.
Launched in 2006, Hoops for Troops provides support for the U.S. military and their families through programs, events, and partnerships. The program and its participants were in Washington last week to conduct public clinics, practices and exhibition games as part of the men's and women's U.S. national basketball teams' preparation for the upcoming Olympics in London. Olympic team members and legends visited Arlington National Cemetery, as well as Walter Reed Bethesda where they met with wounded warriors, their families and staff to thank them for their service and sacrifices.
"For them to take time out of their schedules is a big honor and means a lot to us," said Army Spc. Christopher Anderson, a wounded warrior at Walter Reed Bethesda, injured last month while serving in Afghanistan.
"It's very inspiring to see these young warriors and their attitude and their approach," said Wilkens, an NBA coach who tallied the second most career regular season wins (1,332) in coaching. "It's an honor to visit the wounded warriors and the facility," said the Hall of Fame point guard, who is also an Army veteran.
Wilkens was a member of the ROTC program at Providence College in Rhode Island, and had his second NBA season, 1961-1962, interrupted when he was called to serve as a U.S. Army second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps. He said the military "taught that we had to work together to be successful. The other thing it taught me was organization. Whatever organizational skills I had, they just were enhanced because of being in the military."
After completing his military commitment, Wilkens returned full-time to his NBA career, and again served his country as coach of the 1996 gold-medal winning Olympic basketball team.
Mourning agreed meeting the wounded warriors was inspiring. Following the visit to Walter Reed Bethesda, he tweeted on NBA History, "It was a humbling experience, but also uplifting...When you think about all of the men and women who sacrifice their lives for so many others.
"The dedication and courage and to see the fight in them is such an inspiration," stated Mourning, who won a gold medal as part of the 2000 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, and then faced his own health challenges when a kidney disease caused him to miss part of the 2000-2001 season. He underwent a successful kidney transplant and returned to play in the NBA, earning a championship title with the Miami Heat in 2006.
"I'm so happy to visit and put a lot of smiles on these men and women's faces, and they gave up so much of themselves," Mourning added. "[Visiting the wounded warriors is] the least we can do to show our support and appreciation."
Edwards agreed, while visiting troops and their families in the Military Advanced Training Center and on the wards at Walter Reed Bethesda. She represented the United States as a member on five women's U.S. Olympic basketball teams (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000), winning the gold medal in all except the 1992 team, when the U.S. earned the bronze medal. She is both the youngest and oldest gold medalist in women's basketball, winning at age 20 in 1984 and age 36 in 2000.
Perkins was co-captain of the 1984 gold-medal winning men's Olympic basketball team. He played 17 seasons in the NBA, averaging nearly 12 points and six rebounds per game. He added, "We wanted to thank the wounded warriors and staff for all they have done and are continuing to do."