Enlisted Baller Quietly Goes From Heat to Desert

James is the first former NBA player to enlist and then serve in Iraq

Most people, were they to accomplish what Tim James has in life, would be content sitting in a well-appointed beach home somewhere, keeping one eye on their investments and the other on all the good tables in the nicest restaurants. 

The Heat's former first-round draft pick is not most people.

After a heroic career at Northwestern High and the University of Miami, a career in the NBA, and, later, healthy paychecks playing basketball in Japan, Turkey, and Israel, James has shunned the good life for a thankless job in the Army's most thankless outpost. 

Spc. James is six weeks into pulling 12-hour overnight shifts refueling aircraft at Camp Speicher, an air base north of Baghdad where his unit, Task Force ODIN ("Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize"), is charged with heading off bomb attacks. The former NBA millionaire is earning less than $2,000 a month, but says he's never regretted his decision to become the league's first to enlist and serve in Iraq.

"I have no doubts," James said, in spite of the 125-degree heat. "I wake up every day knowing I'm doing something important with my life. This is so fulfilling."

James carries basketball cards from both UM and the Heat tucked behind a picture of his 5-year-old son, Tim, Jr., in plastic around his neck. Still, few people in his unit had any idea a former NBA player was in their midst, even after an on-base pickup game led his fellow soldiers to tell him he ought to be playing professionally.

His captain, Curtis Byron, only found out about James' star past when the soldier asked for permission to grant interviews to the New York Times, Miami Herald, and others. "Putting that life behind you, setting aside any thoughts you had before about the military, that's impressive," he said.

"I wanted this experience to be raw," James told the Herald. "Start a new life. I wanted to understand new minds and new ways of thinking. I've been in basketball since I was 8. I didn't want to have a basketball conversation every day.''

That subject might come back up now that boxes of goodies from the Heat have arrived in Iraq (including, to the delight of his unit, calendars featuring the very hot Heat Dancers). The team also including a video message from players, one of whom wears James' number 40 as a tribute.

"I just want to wish you good luck, man," said fellow Miami native Udonis Haslem. "God bless you and keep doing what you're doing."

Janie Campbell believes in ball park hot dogs and the healing powers of Howard Schnellenberger. Her work has appeared in irreverent sports sites around the Internet.

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