Photo Courtesy of Joe Mitchell/UPI
The country observed Veteran’s Day over the weekend, and every year, it is an opportunity to honor those who served our country.
Throughout NBA history, there have been a few players who served in the military in some capacity. With that said, here are five NBA players that served in the military.
1.) David Robinson
David Robinson is an NBA legend who has his share of impressive accolades. He was a 10-time All-Star, a two-time NBA champion (in 1999 and 2003), he won the MVP award in 1995, he won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award and more. Robinson is also a two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner (1992 and 1996) and a two-time Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. He was inducted for his individual career and for being a member of the 1992 USA Olympic team.
Robinson was the first pick in the 1987 NBA draft. He started playing basketball in his senior year of high school when he experienced a growth spurt. He chose to attend the United States Naval Academy after graduating, and played basketball during his time there. He managed to become the Naismith College Player of the Year.
The Navy had a height restriction for midshipmen and Robinson was granted a waiver as he was one inch above the restriction. However, he grew more and reached seven feet. That hindered him from serving on U.S. naval ships. He could not be an unrestricted line officer but went on to become a civil engineering officer.
Robinson was known as “The Admiral” in his career but he was a lieutenant.
2.) Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor is an NBA legend and one of the league’s greatest scorers. He was also a United States Army Reservist that was called to active duty during his career. This happened during the 1961-62 season. During that time, he was unable to practice with the team and could only play for the Lakers on a weekend pass. He played in 48 games that season and averaged a career-high 38.3 points. He also averaged 18.6 rebounds. Baylor also set a record that year as he scored 61 points in an NBA Finals game. Baylor had an incredible season and did all of this while he was serving and stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. Baylor passed away in 2021 but accomplished great things as a player and executive.
3.) Coniel “Connie” Norman
Coniel “Connie” Norman was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1973. He was a talented college player and during his time with the Arizona Wildcats, he averaged 23.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and shot over 50 percent from the field. He was a late draft pick that year as he was the 37th pick of the third round. Today, the NBA only has two rounds. Norman played with the Sixers for around two years, then in the 1978-79 season, he played for the San Diego Clippers. After being released by the Clippers, Norman joined the Army. He was stationed in Germany and it is said he played basketball overseas for a period.
After that, Norman lost touch with family and friends, and was homeless for over 20 years. However, he did reunite with his family and was living in Piquette Square, which is an apartment complex in Detroit built to house homeless veterans. Norman passed away in 2022.
4.) Bernard James
Bernard James spent time in the Air Force being in the NBA. He dropped out of high school, but earned his GED and after earning it, he joined the Air Force. He served six years there and received the rank of Staff Sergeant. He was drafted by an intramural basketball team on his base and became a member of Air Force’s All-Star team. He went on to play for Florida State after his enlistment term expired. He enrolled at Tallahassee Community College before that to eventually qualify for NCAA Division I.
James was the 33rd pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who traded him to the Dallas Mavericks the same night. As it stands, James is the oldest player to be drafted in the NBA at 27 years and 148 days old.
James had two stints with the Dallas Mavericks. He was on their roster from 2012 to 2014 and returned briefly in 2015. He spent time overseas after that.
5.) George Yardley
George Yardley was a two-time All-American at Stanford University and was said to have a knack for scoring. He played three years at Stanford and later served in the US Navy for two years.
Yardley was drafted by the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1950. He was the seventh overall pick. He played for the Pistons for six years before playing for the Syracuse Nationals (who eventually became the Philadelphia 76ers). The Pistons moved to Detroit in the 1957-58 season and during that season, Yardley averaged a career-high 27.8 points.
Yardley was a six-time All-Star in his career and was the first player to score 2,000 points in a single season. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2004.
There have been others who served in the military such as Bill Bradley (Air Force), Tim James (Army) and Mike Silliman (Army). Most recently, Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen served in the Finnish military as part of their service requirement during the offseason. These players all went different paths, but one thing is for certain, we are appreciative of their service.