Guardsmen take on Olympic Gold Medalists, NBA all-stars
By TSgt Angela Walz
162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Phoenix - Feb. 15, 2009
Army and Air National Guardsmen were honored for their combat service on Sunday with an opportunity to play against Olympians Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson at the NBA All-Star 2009 event weekend here. But the venue was not a basketball court-the troops vied for a chance to play the new EA Sports NBA Live 09 one-on-one versus the pros via Xbox Live.
Specialist Aaron Patten, C Co 158th, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, climbed his way to the top of the brackets, earning the honors to play against O'Neal of the Phoenix Suns in the finals. Army Staff Sergeant Steven Barrett took second place and the opportunity to play against Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs.
O'Neal and Robinson took the opportunity to sign autographs, take photos, and shake hands with the troops. Robinson also corresponded with, and played live via satellite, a wounded warrior recovering from his injuries in Iraq.
|Military veteran, two-time Olympic gold medalist and NBA All-Star, David Robinson posed for photos with Air and Army National Guardsmen after the pro vs. GI Joes competition held during the 2009 NBA all-star jam.|
O'Neal made the event an extra special occasion via satellite for deployed Air Force Master Sergeant Anthony James and his family. O'Neal hoisted Trey James, the Sergeant's son, up to the Web camera for a surprise appearance and conversation with his dad. The father and son have been separated for two years due to Sergeant James' continuous deployment in support of the on-going military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The masterminds behind the concept of matching up professional athletes to compete against returning and deployed troops are Greg and Addie Zinone, co-founders of Pro vs. GI Joe. 'Doin' a little for those who do a lot,' is their motto. Pro vs. GI Joe also coordinated the visit for Trey James on his 8th birthday to visit with his dad.
Addie, a twice-deployed Army Reserves combat veteran, realized first-hand the importance of maintaining morale for deployed troops. 'So many of them are gamers on their down town anyway,' she said. 'We were able to team up with the USO [United Service Organizations, Inc.] to enable deployed troops to play against celebrities who are stateside.'
'This was definitely a morale booster,' said Specialist Patten. 'These athletes have a lot of time to do so many other things, and taking time out to play with us is so cool,' he said.
Although Robinson competed against the troops, he also took time to honor the Guardsmen who are still deployed overseas: 'Hang in there,' he said. 'We really appreciate what you're doing. It means a lot to us, and it doesn't go unnoticed. When you come back, we'll give you a hero's welcome.'
Robinson, a three-time Olympian, winning golds in 1992 and 1996 and a bronze in 1988, is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a Navy veteran. 1996 Olympiuc gold medalist and MVP of the 1994 FIBA World Championship, O'Neal's dad is a retired Army veteran. O'Neal was named co-MVP at the all-star game later in the evening.