Pacers forward Paul George and the rest of his teammates on the USA Basketball Men’s National Team got a lesson on what it truly means to represent your country last week when they met Major Scott Smiley, an American hero and Purple Heart recipient.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski invited Smiley to speak to Team USA in Las Vegas as they began training for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Krzyzewski first met Smiley when he took over coaching duties for USA Basketball in 2006.
That’s when Coach K invited then-Colonel Robert Brown (now a four-star general recently confirmed by the Senate as the new commander of the U.S. Army Pacific) to speak to his team. Brown brought with him several wounded warriors, including Smiley.
Smiley was wounded in April 2005 in Iraq by a suicide car bomb. The explosion nearly killed him, taking out both of his eyes and a large chunk of his skull.
But Smiley didn’t let his injuries adversely impact his life. Instead, he’s become an inspiration.
He returned to service as the first blind active-duty officer in United States Army history. In the years since, he’s rattled off so many remarkable achievements, from getting his MBA from Duke to climbing Mount Rainier to completing an Ironman Triathlon last summer.
So as the Men’s National Team began their quest to bring home a gold medal next month in Rio, Krzyzewski invited Smiley to speak to the team once again and remind them what it means to wear the stars and stripes.
“At the Military Academy, I thought I knew what a team was,” Smiley told the players. “But waking up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center — blind the rest of my life, half of my body paralyzed, missing a quarter of my skull — I thought my life was over. I had nothing to fight for. I was all on my own.
“But in true fashion, my wife, my family, my friends, and just as importantly, the Army was still there. The team had surrounded me with love and compassion and helped me understand that I wasn’t on my own.”
Smiley closed his remarks with a charge to the team.
“I encourage you all to have the same pride that we have wearing our flags on our shoulders, fighting for our country, serving our country, being a part of that team…and just to fight as hard as you can to bring that gold medal home,” Smiley said.
After Smiley spoke to the team, he took in a practice. George was his eyes on the court, wearing a microphone that allowed him to communicate directly with Smiley via a headset so that he could understand what was happening.
The Pacers star was greatly moved by Smiley’s story and embraced the opportunity to speak with him. George shared a post about the experience on Instagram:
by Wheat Hotchkiss