ORLANDO - Very few players, if any, are more locked in before games than Aaron Gordon, an extremely hard-working 23-year-old who spends countless hours in the gym enhancing his skills.
Every coach he has played for since joining the Orlando Magic in 2014 has lauded his eternal determination and fierceness.
Gordon’s family has a lot to do with that. They have been by his side from the very beginning, inculcating important habits into his every day routine. His late grandfather, who served in the U.S. Marines, was one particular family member that had a huge impact on Gordon while the springy forward was growing up in northern California.
Advice from his grandpa, in fact, continues to play a big part in Gordon’s pregame preparation.
His grandfather, or “Pop” as Gordon would call him, would always say, “Think like a basketball player but play like a marine.” There’s no doubt, just by how passionate and strongminded he is, that this message truly has inspired him every time he steps onto the court.
The admiration Gordon has for the men and women in the U.S. military started a long time ago when he would hear his grandpa talk about how proud he was to represent his country. As a way to pay his respects to soldiers, the San Jose native jumped at the chance to contribute during NBA Cares Hoops for Troops Week.
On Thursday at Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando, Gordon, teammate Jarell Martin, Magic Community Ambassadors Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw and other volunteers spent time cleaning tombstones of fallen soldiers and replacing old American flags with fresh ones.
“It’s super meaningful,” Gordon said. “We’re honoring the people that have protected and served this country and they make us feel like we are safe. And that safety and security is a big part of freedom. Definitely hats off to all the people that served in the military.”
Last week, the Magic and Harris Corporation honored U.S. armed forces during their annual Seats for Soldiers celebration, where more than 1.500 active and retired military personnel and their families gathered at a Magic game for a fun-filled night.
Martin remembers feeling inspired when his high school coach’s father would talk to him about his time in the military. Those stories still resonate with the Baton Rouge, La. native, who is proud to be part of an organization that cares so much about recognizing the enormous impact the military has on preserving our safety.
“It’s very special for us to come out here, to give back and show our appreciation for what they’ve done for our country,” he said. “It’s definitely great for the Magic organization to show its appreciation and give their time and support.”
Revamping gravesites alongside Magic players and other volunteers was uplifting for Keith Sawyer, a master-at-arms second-class in the U.S. Navy. Heartened by their compassion, the Bronx, N.Y. native who moved to Florida when he was a teenager was delighted to partner up with a group that goes above and beyond in the community.
“It’s a great experience to see them, not only just play basketball, but to show they are in the community and doing actual volunteer work is actually pretty cool, especially for events like this,” he said.
Hoops for Troops is a year-round initiative led by the NBA, its teams and players in collaboration with the Department of Defense, USO and other military and veteran serving organizations to honor active and retired service men and women and their families. Throughout the week, the league and its teams worked side-by-side with the military to participate in various service projects across the U.S. to support local communities.