SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- They say the third time's a charm; however, for one NCO assigned to Aviation Detachment 1, 52nd Operations Group, six seems to be his lucky number. Six is the number of times Tech. Sgt. Marico Gray, a contracting NCO, was selected for the Air Force basketball team, and six is the number of times he and his teammates took home a gold medal in the all-services basketball competition - six years in a row. Of the 19 individuals who tried out for this year's team, including nine enlisted members, 10 former Air Force Academy players, he was among the 12 selected to represent the Air Force team. "I started playing basketball at the age of 7," the Birmingham, Ala., native said. "I remember sometimes going out in 30 degree weather to play basketball by myself." Apparently all that practice paid off because it enabled him to earn a spot on the Air Force team playing nearly every position. Even when he was chosen for the All-Armed Forces Team and the All-Tournament Team, he played multiple positions such as forward and point guard, allowing him to hone his skills and help groom younger players who will one day take his place on the court.
Playing in different overseas locations such as Lithuania and Belgium helped him develop a special bond with his teammates, not to mention continuing the friendly rivalry between other services teams. Gray said playing other services was like playing your closest friend.
"We are friends before we get on the court, joking and laughing with each other," he said. "But once the game starts, the friendship is put to the side. We're trying to do whatever we can within that rectangle to win the game and ultimately take home that gold medal." According to Senior Airman James Lewis, 52nd Comptroller Squadron and fellow teammate, Gray is "relentless" when it comes to the team. He shows that same passion when it comes to performing his duties as a contracting specialist for the Av-Det. "He produces an energy that is seldom matched, and he has a knack for continuing to push when others simply can't anymore and it's due to his will to win," Lewis said. Having the ability to pursue his passion while also serving his country is what Gray said makes him proud to be in the Air Force instead of trying to get recruited by a National Basketball Association team.
"I never felt as strong of a desire to play in the NBA like I feel to serve my country," Gray said. "You hear most individuals in the NBA say they love to give back and they do, but most times it's only to certain individuals who are fortunate enough to receive it. By serving my country, everyone benefits -- it's the ultimate fulfillment." Despite his grueling schedule of work, practice and travel, Gray said he wouldn't trade this experience for anything and he encourages others to pursue their dreams as well.
"If an Airman wants to try out for any Air Force-level team sport, I say give it your all and play the game that got you invited to the trials in the first place," Gray said.