After a day off on Sunday, the Wizards reconvened Monday for a practice at Verizon Center that was a little bit different than most. As they began preparing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team also paid tribute to something bigger than basketball. As part of the NBA’s annual Hoops for Troops week, the Wizards hosted members of the military community for their annual Salute to the Stars program.
The team, along with the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation, welcomed a select group of active military veterans, wounded warriors and family members who have lost a loved one in combat to watch practice on the main floor at Verizon Center and meet with coaches, players and executives. Head coach Randy Wittman spoke about the special day following the practice.
"It's everything," said Wittman of giving back to veterans and their families. "We're not here doing what we're doing if it wasn't for people like our troops and the sacrifice that they give to our country to let us do the things that we love doing. They put themselves in harm’s way to let us live the lives that we all love living."
While it was certainly a special day for the attendees, the Wizards players enjoyed the time and the company as well while signing autographs and taking pictures. As it turned out, they weren't the only ones who had stories to tell.
"Most of the time they have a lot of questions for us," said Wizards center Marcin Gortat. "But I'm asking them my questions as well because I want to hear their story."
Moreover, the players came away from the day with renewed appreciation for the work of the United States' armed forces and everything they protect at home.
"It truly shows that we as basketball players are really blessed to do what we do," said Gortat. "Thanks to these true heroes, we're safe here at home, we don't have to worry, and to practice in front of these guys is a true honor."
In addition to getting a chance to exchange stories and catch up, the Wizards and members of the military also teamed up to benefit a great cause in the Washington D.C. area.
Following the practice, players and coaches from both the Wizards and Mystics joined together for a community service project benefitting Cup of Joe, a program run by Catholic Charities. They put together 1,000 "breakfast to go" meals for men and women staying overnight in shelters or transitional shelters. The meals went to help provide for eight shelters operated by Catholic Charities throughout the community that serve over 1,000 people each night.
"Whenever you have a chance to stand alongside a military veteran who served the country and helped protect you, it's always awesome," said Wizards guard Bradley Beal. "And then we're coming together to be able to give food away to homeless people, that's a double whammy. For us to be here today truly means a lot to all of us."