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.
“Veterans have the right kind of training, the discipline,” Ricosa said, adding that he found his way into sports production as a Navy veteran.
The career has “been absolutely phenomenal for me, and I want to give back.”
Showcase for soldiers
In Oklahoma City last week to see the new program in action were Brig. Gen. Michael R. Smith, from Farmingdale, N.Y., and Erin M. Thede, director of the Employer Partnership Office for the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve, in Fort Belvoir, Va.
“It's a great opportunity to showcase the Army Reserve soldiers,” said Smith, the commanding general of the 333rd Military Police Brigade Armed Forces Reserve Center. The program “has tremendous potential. What better first venue than the NBA Finals?”
These reservists might not have thought of sports production as a career or of the possibilities with the NBA until now.
One of them, Spc. Elizabeth Fowler, 24, of Oklahoma City, is a nursing student at the University of Oklahoma.
“It's been a whole new world,” she said of her work last week with the NBA. “I was definitely in the right place at the right time.”
Army Reserve Master Sgt. Mick Dustin, 40, of Mustang, said he, too, was in the right place at the right time for the opportunity. He spent the games helping camera crews set up monitors and cameras, assisting the technical specialists and running cables.
The NBA atmosphere was similar to the military, where people know their jobs thoroughly, know each other and keep things professional.
“We're here willing to learn, and it's just a great experience,” Dustin said.
We were recruiting in the wrong place. 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.”