Florida State’s Bernard James came into the Prudential Center on Thursday night with one of the NBA Draft’s most unlikely routes to arrive there. He left a part of one of its best moments. James, you see, served six years in the U.S. Air Force and even did three tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar. He never graduated high school, but he got some of the loudest cheers of the night from fans who knew his backstory. The fans were their typically quick-to-judge selves on Thursday, booing every Knicks pick and most late-rounders. But for James, the cheer of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and the accompanying standing ovation was about an appreciation for his service.
James went No. 33 to Cleveland, though he became a Mavericks pick through a trade. Before he reports to Dallas, though, he soaked up the experience with his family as he sat in the stands as an uninvited player. Clearly he wasn’t a top-20 player like the other attendees invited at the NBA’s behest, but his mother reportedly wanted him to walk the stage if he was called. At 27 years old, he played up his experience — and not the game kind — in his predraft interviews. It worked out in really cool fashion.
“I’ve been in the military and I’m mature,” James said. “I’m not a snot-nosed kid out here who’s going to go buckwild as soon as he gets a little money. I’m going to work hard. I’m the person I’m going to be, whether I’m getting paid or not. I’m going to work hard and stay disciplined and perfect my craft.”
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