Army Reserve Spc. Skylard Smith had never been to an OKC Thunder game until the NBA Finals last week, when he found himself carrying cables into the Chesapeake Energy Arena for video crews and walked right by Thunder star Kevin Durant shooting baskets for practice.
Smith, 22, from Midwest City, is one of a handful of reservists who participated in a new pilot program between the Army Reserve's Employee Partnership Office and the NBA. The program debuted in Oklahoma City for the Finals and continued in Miami, Fla., with reservists there this week.
Those involved with the Army and the NBA think the new relationship has great potential. The Army Reserve's employment office helps armed forces personnel who are finishing their military commitments find work, and the NBA needed technical help for the Finals.
“It was an amazing experience,” Smith said during Game 2, when he was assigned to a video crew on standby for cable repairs. In addition to placing cable, he also helped unload equipment and set it up.
The skills these reservists developed in the military made a perfect fit for the skills the video production team needed in the arena, said Mike Ricosa, vice president of operations and engineering for the NBA.
At colleges, league recruiters were not finding enough people who wanted to do the basic work with equipment to get started in sports video production, he added.
“We were recruiting in the wrong place,” Ricosa said. “A kid right out of school is not looking at coming out and running the mobile unit or working in the rain and snow and ice and whatever. ... He thinks he's going to build the next iPad.”
But armed forces personnel are used to these conditions, especially during deployment — they work weekends, are used to setting up equipment at remote locations and know how to provide logistical support, NBA and Army officials noted.