Just a little game between friends
Team Army wheelchair basketball coach Rodney Williams and U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher McGinnis, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, are in deep discussion on the sidelines during the gold medal game against Team Navy July 7, at The United Center, Chicago, Ill, during the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games. The DOD Warrior Games are an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. Approximately 265 athletes representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, United Kingdom Armed Forces, and the Australian Defence Force will compete June 30 – July 8 in archery, cycling, track, field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, and wheelchair basketball. (U.S. Army photo by Robert A. Whetstone)
By Robert A. Whetstone
Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs
CHICAGO - - When you walk into the United Center you are met by murals of Chicago Bulls’ legends of the past and six championship banners hanging from the rafters. New legends were born on July 7 in a hotly contested Gold Medal wheelchair basketball game between Team Army and Team Navy during the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games.
Team Army beat Team Navy by the width of their bayonet, 56-55. Both teams fought valiantly, with the lead changing more times than fans could keep track of.
From the opening tip, the referees allowed the teams to play; and they played hard. Players were crashing into each other with such force you could hear it in the upper section of the gym. It was physical. And it played to Team Navy’s advantage.
With 3 minutes and 42 seconds left in the half, the score was tied 22-22. That’s when Team Army started to discover cracks in Team Navy’s ship. Ball movement was swift and scoring became easier for Team Army. With only seconds to go in the first half, it seemed as if Team Army would go into the locker room with a two point lead. Navy veteran Javier Rodriguez torched his way down the court and let fly a momentum-changing three pointer that sent Team Navy into the half leading 31-30.
When the teams came out for the second half, it was clear Team Navy’s tactic was to sink Team Army’s point guard, Army veteran Jhoonar Barrera. There were two, sometimes three sailors surrounding Barrera. The tactic worked for a little while. But just like the first half, Team Army made adjustments and kept just ahead of Team Navy’s pace.
“My whole team picked it up in the last couple of minutes,” said Barrera. Army veteran Charles Hightower, was a beast on the boards, and veteran Jarred Vaina kept putting in timely buckets. Spc. Stephanie Morris and veteran Armando Gonzalez took care of the ball with some deft passing. Gonzalez blocked a shot that would have made Michael Jordan proud. Sgt. 1st Class Earl ‘The Pearl’ Ohlinger put down some pressure-packed free throws when most mere mortals would have wilted.
Team Navy had the ball with one last chance to steal the win, but it was just not in the cards as the final horn blew. Team Army stormed the court…slowly out of sheer exhaustion. “This is the best ever moment (of Warrior Games),” said Barrera. “I just want to go back to the room and pass out.”
In typical fashion, these heroes, these warriors who sacrifice daily to serve their country, smiled with what little strength they had left, honoring the call they mutually share. There were no losers who left the court; just a group of warriors. It was just a little game between friends.
They may not raise another championship banner in the United Center… but they should.