BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The court was shining and cameras flashing as a crowd of thousands gathered in the Sleep Train Arena to watch the Dallas Mavericks duel the Sacramento Kings April 5.
Beale Airmen and 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander, Col. Phil Stewart gathered to witness the contest and meet former 9th Security Forces Squadron, Staff Sgt. Bernard James, who is now a forward on the Mavericks. "Meeting Bernard James was a unique experience. His positive representation of the Air Force in the past and present remain steadfast," Stewart said. "I'd like to thank him for his service and wish him well during his career in the NBA." An NBA court is a drastically different environment from Bernard's humble beginnings at the Harris Fitness Center here.
"Beale is where I started playing basketball and from there my opportunities opened up," James said. "I really appreciate the support from the Air Force. I wouldn't be where I am now without the Air Force."
His time in the Air Force was not always spent honing his skills within the safe confines of a gymnasium. Bernard has deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. While at Camp Bucca, Iraq, the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran guarded detainees and survived a mortar attack which claimed the lives of six detainees. The life-threatening experience has not diminished Bernard's outlook on the military. "My experiences in the Air Force and downrange have made me a better person," James said.
The 28-year-old NBA rookie was a high school dropout and joined the Air Force at 17. His experience was limited until he was advised by his supervisor to begin playing on an intramural squad. From there, he dedicated day after day to improving his skills.
"The Air Force instilled in me discipline, a hard working mentality, and a sense of direction," James said. That sense of direction led him to the starting lineup for the Florida State Seminoles. As a senior in 2012 he led Florida State to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in school history and to the NCAA tournament. During his senior campaign, the former Airman averaged a career-high 10.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game and 2.3 blocks per game. Later that year his dreams of becoming a NBA pro came true when he was selected 33rd overall in the 2012 draft. "Being in the NBA is really crazy; my teammates are guys that are hall of famers that I used to watch on TV," James said. I get to step on the court and compete with players like Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Lebron James. It's a great feeling, and great motivation to continue to work hard and get better."