If you believe TV commercials, the best Christmas gift you could give anyone is car. Or diamonds. Or, if you live in a trailer park, a ShamWow. But no matter what you gave your wife or family this holiday season, it probably didn’t mean as much to them as what the Dallas Mavericks and the fans who have courtside season tickets do every December.
ESPN.COM reports that the Mavericks recently held their sixth annual Seats for Soldiers game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, where more than 150 wounded soldiers from a rehabilitation clinic in San Antonio were given front-row seats donated by Mavericks season-ticket holders, and thanked for their sacrifice with a lengthy standing ovation.
Video of this year’s event after the jump (complete with the obligatory Lee Greenwood song, but if you don’t choke up while seeing injured soldiers receive a standing ovation to “God Bless the U.S.A.,” I don’t want to know you):
The program was the idea of a Mavericks fan named Neil Hawks, who started out by simply organizing field trips for eight injured soldiers from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio to have baseline seats for three games back in 2004. From there, the idea has taken off, with the Mavericks and team owner Mark Cuban helping to organize it and make it bigger each year. (How often do you associate “heartwarming” with Mark Cuban?)
And Seats for Soldiers is about more than just the game - it’s an all-day event. For this year, American Airlines sent a chartered jet to San Antonio for the players, who were then treated to a five-star meal from famous Dallas chef Kent Rathbun. And after the game, the soldiers got to hang out in the locker rooms with both Mavericks and Thunder players.
(Side note: I guess you don’t want the soldiers to see a loss, so it was a good idea to schedule the game against the Thunder.)
To understand what the night means to the wounded soldiers, read the reaction of former Army corporal J.R. Martinez, who suffered through 32 operations (more than Mark Schlereth and Grant Hill combined) after suffering burns to more than 40 percent of his body when his Humvee drove over a landmine in Iraq:
“Celebrities get that kind of attention every time they walk into a building,” Martinez said. “For that one night, you get to feel like a celebrity. You really feel like you’re on top of the world. For that night, we were the superstars.
“You get these tickets, courtside seats, but on top of that, you’ve got all these people coming up to you all night long, thanking you for protecting them. All these people are so appreciative and almost worshiping the ground you walk on.
“I always tell them that you don’t understand what a night like this does for us. It’s worth more than you can imagine. These are things that a lot of these soldiers would never get to do [otherwise], and it’s happening to [soldiers] that had lost all hope.”