Last Updated October 24, 2022.
As basketball’s top prospects gear up for the NBA draft on June 26, we decided to take a look back at some NBA players who did more than excel on the court – they served in the United States military as well.
- Elgin Baylor – Hall of Fame inductee Elgin Baylor played for Seattle University averaging over 31 points per game. Before his senior season the forward was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers and is credited for turning the struggling club franchise around thanks to his outstanding rookie performance that helped bring the team to the NBA Finals. During his fourth year with the Lakers he served as a U.S. Army Reservist, living at Fort Lewis in Washington State. Despite the fact that he was unable to attend practices and could only play weekend games when he received a pass, Baylor still had impressive season stats of 38 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 assists.
- Bill Bradley – After winning an Olympic gold medal in basketball in 1964, attending Princeton University, and then Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, Bill Bradley played for the New York Knicks from 1967-1977. He led the team (which also included Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, and Dave DeBusschere) to two NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. During this time (1967-1978) he was also a member of the United States Air Force Reserve. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. A leader both on and off the court, Bradley became a U.S. Senator and ran for President in 2000 on the Democratic ticket, losing to Al Gore.
- Bernard James – Dallas Mavericks center Bernard James served in the United States Air Force for six years. He grew up in a military family and enlisted in the Air Force when he was just 17 years old eventually serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar, and rising to the rank of staff sergeant. It was during his time in the military that he found and developed his talent in basketball – he never played in middle school or high school. In the 2005 U.S. Armed Forces All-Star Tournament he drew the attention of the head coach at Florida State who offered him a scholarship. View this interview with Bernard James as he discusses his personal journey from the military to the NBA.
- Tim James – In 1999 Tim James was a first-round draft pick for the Miami Heat. He played just four games with the Heat, eventually moving on to play for Charlotte and Philadelphia, as well as Japan, Turkey, and Israel. After he left professional basketball he joined the United States Army, serving in Iraq and rising to the rank of Corporal.
- Coniel “Connie” Norman – Connie Norman, a basketball star at the University of Arizona, was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1974. In 1979 he moved to the San Diego Clippers and once released from the Clippers, he enlisted in the Army. Norman was stationed in Germany and after serving four years, he played professional basketball in Europe for seven seasons.
- David Robinson – Before he became center for the San Antonio Spurs and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, David “The Admiral” Robinson was a Lieutenant, Junior Grade in the Unites States Navy. After his high school graduation he enrolled at the Naval Academy, but was almost not accepted because his height (at the time it was 6’ 8”) was above the Navy limit. He grew to 7’ 1” and not only became a star on the Naval Academy’s basketball team, but one of the NCAA’s most prominent players winning the prestigious Naismith and Wooden Awards. In 1987 he was drafted by the San Antonio Spur becoming a 10-time All-Star and leading the Spurs to two NBA championships. He was also a part of the 1992 Olympic gold medal “Dream Team” that included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird.
- Mike Silliman – After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point – the only NBA player to do so – Mike Silliman was drafted in 1966 by the New York Knicks. However instead of playing with the NBA right away, he went on to become captain of the 1968 U.S. Olympics Team and took home a gold medal. In 1970 he was traded to the Buffalo Braves where he played one season.
- George Yardley – After earning All-American status twice at Stanford University, George “The Bird” Yardley was drafted by the Fort Wayne Pistons but opted to serve two years in the United States Navy before playing with the team. After serving the military during the Korean War, Yardley started his stellar NBA career with the Pistons in 1953, and in 1957 played with the Syracuse Nationals. During his career he broke numerous records (he was the first NBA player to score 2,000 points in a season) and is considered to be one of the most outstanding leapers and forward players in his generation. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.
The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only.
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