NBA Alumni Shoot Hoops on Carrier
ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (AP) _ Seaman James Robertson never dreamed of playing against NBA stars.
But on New Year’s Day, the 22-year-old had a surprise when Spud Webb and Artis Gilmore landed on this aircraft carrier to play some ball and pay their respect to the ship’s 5,500 sailors for their relentless war effort.
``Think of it, me playing an All-Star and NBA legend. It is something every little kid growing up looks forward to,″ said Robertson, from Brooklyn, N.Y., who lined up at point guard against Webb on the hangar deck’s basketball court.
The ship’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Unit requested Webb and Gilmore to visit through a promotion company representing the pair. Similar morale-boosting visits have included cheerleaders and actors.
``I want to do anything I can to help my country, so helping the morale of sailors out here does just that,″ said Webb, 38, the diminutive 5-foot-7 basketball star, who played 11 years and won the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk contest.
``Most of us sit at home and see what these guys are doing only on the television. It is unbelievable for me to come out here to the Arabian Gulf to see what the sailors are doing for myself,″ Webb said.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt set sail Sept. 19 from its Norfolk, Va., home port on a six-month deployment in the northern Arabian Gulf. Since arriving here, the carrier has launched almost daily sorties over Afghanistan against al-Qaida and Taliban targets, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Webb and Gilmore, 52, who played in both the NBA and ABA, spent New Year’s Eve on another ship in the Roosevelt’s battle group, the missile-guided cruiser USS Vella Gulf. They were expected to leave for Bahrain on Wednesday.
``There is no question that the United States has become a unit since 9/11 ... I have never seen such closeness and togetherness from American people,″ said Gilmore, who now works as a marketing manager for a mechanical engineering company.
``That unity is a tribute to these people out here on ships like the Theodore Roosevelt,″ he said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawn Etheridge, a member of the ship’s 2001 Naval Forces Afloat Championship team, said having basketball superstars visit the ship was great for the crew.
``Guys heard these two were coming on board three days ago, so we started really working out to get into shape to play them,″ said Etheridge, from Elizabeth City, N.C. ``Them coming here makes a real difference, it gives us something different to do than working and looking at sea.″