Mavericks’ James from military vet to NBA rookie
by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
Growing up, Bernard James understood the concept of Veterans Day. His stepfather dad, Darryl Cook, is a career military man.
“I knew why we had Veteran’s Day every year, but it didn’t have very much personal meaning when I was kid,” said James, a rookie center with the Dallas Mavericks.
Not until James, 27, served in the United States Air Force – a six-year stint that included tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar and a rank of staff sergeant – did he develop a different perspective and deeper appreciation.
“It didn’t take on a personal meaning until I joined the military and realized exactly what everyone in the military sacrifices and goes through on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “That’s when I really got a sense, and that’s when Veteran’s Day really became important to me.”
The NBA began honoring veterans last week and will continue to do so with events this week: the Los Angeles Lakers players will visit with homeless and transitioning veterans Monday at breakfast, and Minnesota Timberwolves players and coaches will have dinner with Purple Heart recipients, veterans and active-service members Tuesday.
James is the unique bridge from the military to the NBA. “In many ways, the opportunity for us to have him on our team is an honor for our franchise,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s the kind of guy everyone respects. Even if he had not served in the military, everyone would feel that way because that’s just his character.”
A 27-year-old NBA rookie is unusual, and James tells an unusual story: Interested in learning but not in attending class, he dropped out of high school at 16 years old. That didn’t go over well at home, so he earned his GED, and at 17, he joined the Air Force and planned on a career in the military.
“I knew no matter what I’d always have a job,” he said. “That security is something that’s been important to me since I’ve been a kid. I knew I wanted to be stable. That was pretty much the plan.”
A friend in the Air Force asked James to join a basketball … [For more on Mavericks' James goes from military vet to NBA rookie, click here.]