The Pat Tillman story is one of the greatest/saddest stories in American sports history. He is a man that turned down a multi-million dollar contract at 25 years of age to join his brother, who turned down a pro baseball contract, and enlisted in the Army. Pat was deployed and was a part of the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After, he didn’t return home, he returned to Ranger School, where he and his brother graduated, and were redeployed to Afghanistan as Rangers. Then, on April 22, 2004, in Sperah, Afghanistan, Pat Tillman and part of his unit were redirected down a separate path than the rest of the unit to assist a broken down Humvee. They were ambushed, held there position, and in a tragic event, the rest of the unit heard the gunfire, returned fire, and killed Pat Tillman in friendly fire. I can tell you the exact location I was the moment I heard this on the radio. I had just ordered and was in line waiting in a Jack in the Box drive through on my way to class when I was attending Moorpark College. I have no shame in admitting I pulled up to the window with tears rolling down my face, in fact, just thinking of the story gets me teary eyed to this day. There is no such thing as worthy thank you to any who have served our country, nor their families, and just because Pat Tillman was a professional athlete doesn’t mean the others that have made the sacrifice are any less worthy of incredible recognition and gratitude. That said, Dan Patrick, back when he was still on ESPN radio offered the greatest sports suggestion of all-time, and to this day, I am still saddened when I see it was never put into play. He suggested that the 40 yard lines at all Arizona Cardinals home games have a Red and Blue stripe on either side of the white line marker in honor of Pat Tillman, as his number was 40. If for no other reason than for when the next generation of football fans asks why the 40 yard line in Arizona looks like that, we can all share the story of Pat Tillman’s incredible sacrifice.
I will take any excuse to share the story of Pat Tillman, but tonight was as good as any. Tonight, early in the second round of the NBA draft, a man by the name of Bernard James was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, later traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Now, most people wouldn’t know the name, in fact, I didn’t until tonight either, however, the 6’10” 230 lbs., 27 year old Power Forward was the oldest collegiate athlete drafted in the NBA in over 20 years. Why is he such an old draft pick, and why does the Pat Tillman story and my personal experience with it have to do with Bernard James? Well, Bernard James is just under 6 months older than me, and back when I was entering my senior year of high school, worried about chasing girls, playing baseball, and seeing how loud I could get my truck speakers to go, Bernard James was enrolling in the United States Air Force. Since then, he spent six years in the Air Force, three tours of duty through Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar, and earned the rank of Staff Sergeant. After his six years, he attended Florida State where he carried a 3.0 GPA and played basketball. Now that he is a NBA draftee and newest member of the Dallas Mavericks, hopefully many more will hear his story, but regardless, here at the stain, Mr. James, we salute and thank you.