Spurred By An Unbreakable Bond

By: Shelby Willingham Spurs.com

Long before he was a Master Sergeant, Laron Collins’ first trip to San Antonio was 18 years ago. After enlisting in the Air Force, his career began the same way as every other Airman, with basic military training at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base.

Every enlisted personnel in the active Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve has gone through the same drills and stayed in the same bunks in San Antonio.

Collins’ time at Lackland in 1999 included a visit from a Spurs Sports & Entertainment representative to show the airmen just how thankful the organization was for their service. For the Spurs, it was an annual visit to reinforce their longstanding relationship with the military, but for Collins, it was a memory that would last a lifetime.

When asked about his training time at Lackland 18 years and five combat missions ago, he instantly recounted the first time that the Spurs reached out to him.

"The Spurs and the military are bonded by the hip because this is the gateway to the Air Force for our new countrymen coming in to serve," Collins said. "The first thing they see is San Antonio and the Spurs right there supporting them. That keeps with them from day one."

Collins was one of 50 military members invited to attend Spurs Training Camp hosted by USAA on Wednesday afternoon, where assistant coaches James Borrego and Ime Udoka led the troops through on-court drills simulating a Spurs practice. Following a fast-paced hour of passing, shooting, defensive drills and a scrimmage, the service men and women were invited to a meet-and-greet with Danny Green and a tour of the AT&T Center.

In addition to this training camp, military members will be honored at Thursday night's Spurs-Grizzlies game as a part of Military Appreciation Night, presented by USAA. For this game, the team will don military-themed camouflage jerseys to commemorate current and former members and their families. The night will be filled with nods to the armed forces, including a very special moment honoring 110-year-old Richard Overton, the oldest-living World War II veteran. A special halftime enlistment ceremony will feature 10 new recruits as they are sworn in to the United States Armed Forces.

Leading up to this night, roles were reversed on March 14, when Kyle Anderson experienced rigorous Air Force tactical training procedures firsthand at the Camp Bullis Training Site, an honor that was awarded to Green at Lackland last year.

"We just play a basketball game; these guys are in battle," Green said. "So any chance we get to try to give back or interact with them or let them know how much we appreciate them, we will try to do our best."

While both parties cherish these events, military appreciation for the Spurs is not an annual activity, but rather a constant state of mind.

"It starts from the top with R.C. and Pop," Green said. "They value it, they cherish it, they honor it, they respect it to the fullest. It trickles on down to us."

Borrego added, "This is just our way of giving back, but they are in our minds every single game."

This deep-seated bond between the Armed Forces, the Spurs and USAA signifies the love and respect each has for the other.

"It means a lot because you've got the memories and no one can take that from you," Collins said. "So when you are out doing a mission, you have that with you to keep you focused on your mission and press on."