NEW ORLEANS, La. --
Athletes and warriors from across the nation joined forces for the greater good during the 2014 National Basketball Association All-Star Weekend, rebuilding communities and honoring the nation’s armed forces during a weekend of volunteer service and friendly competition.
The weekend kicked off with the Rising Stars Challenge Practice, Feb. 14, 2014, which was open exclusively to service members and veterans in New Orleans and surrounding areas, giving them the chance to interact with freshman and sophomore NBA players. The practice was immediately followed by the NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service that placed service members, NBA players and volunteers at different areas of New Orleans to complete renovation projects. That evening, a joint service color guard was in the national spotlight, opening the Rising Stars Challenge game.
The NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service was staffed by volunteers from local areas, visitors from across the country and service members from all five branches of the U.S. military, as well as current and former NBA athletes. NBA Cares, a community outreach initiative that focuses on community development, education and health, hosts these days of service across the country in conjunction with major events. This particular event included six home renovations in the Algiers Point community of New Orleans, cleaning and revitalizing Joseph S. Clack High School in the Treme neighborhood and constructing a new playground at the Knowledge Is Power Program New Orleans Leadership Primary School.
According to Marine Capt. Samuel Baumer, the Marine Forces Reserve 4th Marine Logistics Group adjutant, the Department of Defense provided 100 military service members to assist during the NBA All-Star Day of Service.
“It’s good for the local community and the neighborhood as a whole,” said Baumer. “The service members get to see a different side of the community and interact with the locals, meet their neighbors as well as fellow volunteers. It gives them a chance to show the community that we are here for them and that we are all on the same team, working toward the same goals.”
The weekend’s culminating event, the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, Feb. 16, recognized Marine Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the senior non-commissioned officer of the armed forces during the national anthem. The half-time show also featured a tribute to all five branches of the U.S. military. Battaglia said that relationships like the one the Department of Defense shares with professional sports entities like the NBA are crucial in maintaining the military’s relationship with the American people. The weekend’s volunteer event was a prime opportunity for communities to see role models from both the arena and the battlefield come together for a common goal.
“It wasn’t just the service members that were reaching out to the communities, it was also the NBA through their non-profit, NBA Cares, as well as the homebuilder associations and community volunteers,” Battaglia said. “It was just great to see everything come together.”
Battaglia added that the military cherishes the similarities it shares with professional sports entities like the NBA, because of the guidelines of professional conduct and personal development both are known for.
“As you can see, the NBA is so military friendly, in the way they have invited us to participate in the events featured this weekend; we are excited to be alongside the NBA and all the good things they do, not just for our military service members but for families and youth development as well,” Battaglia said. “There’s more to it than just the game, there is the way you conduct yourself, with sportsmanship and serving as a role model.”
This weekend allowed many current and former NBA role models to make appearances alongside their military counterparts. Former NBA and gold-medal Olympian basketball player Samuel Perkins attended the NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service, giving him a chance to meet fans and help shed light on the issues facing low-income communities across America.
“The NBA has very good initiatives, and one of those initiatives is NBA Cares,” Perkins said. “It’s a good thing to have such a diverse group of people come together for the same cause, to help those individuals who are in need.”
Many service members have adopted New Orleans as their home, and they intend to do what they can to give their neighbors a helping hand. Army Maj. Glen McCray of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, believes it is crucial for service members to go the extra mile to be a part of the local culture and to lend a helping hand.
“We should do it to let the members of the community know that they are not by themselves,” McCray said. “Oftentimes people will feel that they are facing these trials alone, and that’s where we can step in and show them that isn’t the case.”
According to Petty Officer 2nd Class William Wesley, a Navy aviation support equipment technician with the Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic Site New Orleans, the opportunities presented to the military by the NBA were too good to pass up.
“It’s another chance to let them know that service members stand behind them, just as they stand behind us,” Wesley said. “We’re one big family, so we’ll do whatever we can to help, and we’d like to thank the community for giving us that opportunity.”