As the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team kicked its preparations for Rio into gear, a familiar face in an Army uniform stopped by to offer support ... and give his own example of teamwork.
Retired Maj. Scotty Smiley, the Army's first blind active-duty officer, addressed the team July 21 in Las Vegas, a day before the team began its exhibition schedule in preparation for the Aug. 6 start of the Olympic basketball tournament in Brazil.
Smiley retired in May 2015 and has toured the country as a motivational speaker, with stories stemming from a 2005 incident in Mosul, Iraq, that cost him his sight — and nearly everything else.
A car bomber detonated his payload about 30 yards from Smiley, who'd engaged the enemy from the hatch of his Stryker combat vehicle. He lost his eyes and a portion of his skull in the blast, but his actions prevented the explosion from reaching his fellow soldiers.
Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, a fellow U.S. Military Academy graduate, introduced Smiley to his squad by describing the incident.
"All of a sudden, you recognize that there is a car bomb coming toward your unit, which might take out your unit," the coach told his players in an NBA-produced video. "What would you do? What would you do? What he did was stay above, and he took out that car bomb, and as a result, helped save the men in his unit."
Smiley told the stars his story through the lens of teamwork — how support from family, friends and the Army community helped him through the early stages of his recovery.
"The team had surrounded me with love and compassion, and helped me understand that I wasn't on my own," he told the group in the video, before asking them to "fight as hard as they can to bring that gold medal home. And I know you guys are going to do it."
Smiley made a similar visit with the team in 2006 as part of a group of wounded warriors — guests of then-Col. Robert Brown, now the four-star commander of Army Pacific, who'd been invited to speak by Krzyzewski shortly after the Duke legend took over as Team USA head coach.
"He's such a strong guy, man," Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said after speaking with Smiley. "His will is amazing. Just to be able to meet him, it's a real honor." Hope UnseenThe video also shows Smiley taking in a Team USA practice on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas with an assist from Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, who narrated the action as Smiley listened in via headphones.
"I lost, Scotty," he said near the end of the video. "Melo [New York Knick Carmelo Anthony] won. Melo won."
"Uh-oh," Smiley responded.
Krzyzewski narrated a 2015 documentary on Smiley's participation in an Idaho triathlon. "Beat Feet," which debuted on Veterans Day, can be rented or purchased online.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.