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November 11, 2011

I think we all know that it’s never really been about the foul shots. It’s always been about the gratitude.

It’s been about saying thank you, in our own small way, for the kinds of sacrifices that many of us – myself certainly included – never had to endure.

It’s been about doing our small part for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and its mission of serving our nation’s injured Veterans.

It’s been about perfect strangers, like the Winders family and Gill family and Earl family, and Chris Nolan and Jesse Ander and Chris DeBlois, who showed up at the gym or the house to help rebound, to help us say thank you.

It’s been about our new friends in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Bell Buckle, Tennessee, and New Albany, Indiana, who invited us to their parts of the world to convey that thank you.

It’s been about a boy with autism who decided to make our project the theme of his bar mitzvah so that he could join us in that thank you.

It’s been about a basketball team in Cheney, Kansas; and Miss May’s third-graders; and the Helping Hoops For Heroes team at Sea Road School in Kennebunk, Maine; one dollar at a time, joining in our thank you.

It’s been about the students that I’ve had the opportunity to visit with over the past couple of years, and about all the hands that go up when they’re asked who has had family members serve. And it’s been about the ear-shattering THANK YOU that we let fly together upon pointing to the American flag.

It’s been about a neighbor whose political differences with us didn’t prevent him from spending part of an afternoon with Heather and me, making a donation, telling us about his experiences in Vietnam and since, and allowing us to say thank you to him.

It’s been about a Rhode Island mom who, for her 57th birthday, asked her son to come rebound with us for an evening, for which she pledged to contribute $1 per made shot.

It’s been about a Tennessee man who donated the money raised from his annual attempt at driving 21 states in one day to Hoops For Heroes.

It’s been about a fifth-grader who spent the last two years literally filling in a million tiny little squares with a red colored pencil to help us measure our progress.

It’s been about a South Carolina soldier’s wife who set aside her Starbucks habit (or at least curbed it somewhat) in order to make her donation, like clockwork, the first of every month.

It’s been about a guy who decided at about the halfway point of this project that he wanted to help out by assisting on 50,000 of these made shots … and got to more than 52,000 instead.

It’s been about a guy who decided to raise money for the cause by attempting to break the New Hampshire north-to-south cycling record – and beating it by more than an hour – while raising $1,500 for the cause.

It’s been about hundreds of notes of encouragement, about additional hundreds of hands collecting rebounds and assists on the basketball court, about well over a thousand individual contributions from all over the country, ranging from loose change to $5 checks to one individual donation of $2,500.

So many men and women and boys and girls, contributing in some way, large or small, to this, our collective thank you. I’d love to name them all, but I’m happy to say that we simply wouldn’t have time.

It’s been about a wife, The Beautiful Heth, and three kids who understood that use of the word “sacrifice” is not to be wasted on a guy who gets to play basketball every day for two years … or even on his family.

And it’s been about the Decoteaus – Mark, Nancy, Andrew and Maddie – who with incredible dignity and grace have allowed their unfathomable loss to serve as this effort’s most profound inspiration.

In the broadest sense, it’s been about the sentiment best conveyed in the following words, which were spoken by Mr. Arnold Fisher, honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, about a year and a half ago, at the dedication of the Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Maryland.

This is what Mr. Fisher said:

“Those who wear the uniform of this great land are our sons and our daughters, our mothers and our fathers. When they raise their right hand and pledge to defend us against enemies foreign and domestic, with that comes a contract with this nation and with each one of us, that we take care of them when they serve, and long after their service is done. And how well we meet that responsibility is the measure of us as a nation. This … is not charity. It is our duty. It is a responsibility from which we cannot hide.”

I agree absolutely with all that Mr. Fisher said, with the exception of one small detail. We CAN hide, if we so choose, from that responsibility. I know, because I spent the majority of my life doing just that … Free country, right?

But today, we are here, saying thank you in unison. Today, we celebrate that service and we honor our side of that contract. Today, we choose – in our own small way – not to hide from that responsibility.

When Bruce Springsteen wrote “The Rising” in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he was singing literally of the firefighters who ran up those stairs, into those burning towers … but I’m pretty sure he was also singing of each one of us, of what he believed we would need to do, of what he believed we would need to become.

He was asking us to rise, individually and as one.

As you know, this has never been about the guy who has been lucky enough to spend his days playing. It has been about the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way – and the families that have supported them – so that we may continue to play.

It has never been about the one million shots that I have had the privilege to make. It has always been, and I expect will continue to be, about the gratitude that we have been privileged to share.

May we continue to rise.

One million shots. Endless gratitude.

Happy Veterans Day.


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