Former NBA Player Trades Basketball For Baghdad

With all the discussion this summer about things like health care reform, cash-for-clunkers, and our country’s faltering economy, it might be easy to forget sometimes that the men and women of our armed forces have been fighting wars in two nasty, inhospitable countries far, far away for the better part of eight years now. As hard as people think it might be to give up salary for unpaid furloughs or other hardships Americans have had to endure lately, it pales in comparison to getting shipped halfway around the world to get shot at in 130-degree heat.

Tim James

It’s hard to believe that someone would willingly choose that as a job, yet millions of heroic Americans who believe in their country and what it stands for voluntarily sign on to keep our nation safe from our enemies. It’s especially hard to believe that people would give up seemingly everything to do it, but that’s exactly what former Miami Heat first-round draft pick Tim James did.

Tim James was never the high-profile athlete Pat Tillman was - 43 games in the NBA over a few seasons - but their stories are undoubtedly similar. They were both intelligent, passionate men who felt a higher calling. And James’ story of heroism is no less stirring (though hopefully will have a happier ending) than Tillman’s.


A former NBA player who often wondered about his true calling, Tim James is now a U.S. Army soldier, a transformation that even many of the people closest to him never saw coming.

“I got my degree, lived the life I was able, have my freedom and became a professional athlete,” James said last week from Iraq. “I’m the example of the American dream.”

James is at Camp Speicher, the massive base near Tikrit, 85 miles north of Baghdad, not far from Saddam Hussein’s hometown and where insurgents still are a perpetual threat. For Miami Northwestern High, the Miami Hurricanes, three NBA teams and some foreign clubs, he was forward Tim James. For the Army, he’s Spc. Tim James of Task Force ODIN — short for Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize.

In layman’s terms, he’s part of the unit tasked with watching and catching the bad guys before they plant bombs.

And even though James was never an NBA star or even able to stay on a roster for very long, the Miami Heat has done a great job keeping tabs on their former first-rounder. They’ve sent care packages to James and his unit and raised money for military-related charities. Kudos to the team for actually staying involved and not just cynically using James’ story as a PR ploy. And to everyone else - don’t forget the sacrifices that our brave servicemen/women have made to keep us safe. Our wars don’t even make the headlines much anymore - ho, hum, another bombing in Baghdad/Kabul, the papers say - but our military should never, ever be forgotten. Thanks, guys.