NBA’s Rip Hamilton Learns What’s Real Vs. Myth on USO Tour

Retired Basketball Star Shares ‘Mind-Boggling’ Troop Experience

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

For most people, wearing a gas mask would probably be uncomfortable. But for three-time NBA All-Star Richard “Rip” Hamilton, who tried one on during a decontamination demonstration on a USO tour, he almost forgot he was wearing it.

NBA legend Rip Hamilton dons chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological protective gear on display by the 51st Readiness and Emergency Management Flight at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

“I left it on for like, 30 minutes, and the guy was like, ‘You can take that off.’ But I thought, ‘Man, I feel good in this!” Hamilton joked. “It kind of put me back in my comfort zone, because I wore a mask when I played.”

As if he needed to remind any NBA fan of that. The mask he’s referring to was a clear plastic one that he wore in the mid-2000s after breaking his nose twice. It became his trademark, and he wore it for most of the rest of his 14-year career.

The rest of the USO tour had him out of his comfort zone a bit. But that was a good thing, he said, describing it as “mind-boggling.”

Hamilton reached out to the USO after his longtime friend and mentor, fellow NBA legend Ray Allen, had done a tour and loved it.

Hamilton wasn’t disappointed. His spring tour made seven worldwide stops in seven days.

“In our careers, we travel a lot, but we never travel like this,” Hamilton said. “It was absolutely amazing.”

Rip Hamilton boards a C-17 before departing on the annual Vice Chairman’s USO Tour, April 20, 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

USO tour veterans like former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, Army vet-turned country musician Craig Morgan and celebrity chef Robert Irvine were also there, and they prepped him for the experience.

Country music artist Craig Morgan, celebrity chef Robert Irvine and Rip Hamilton pose together on a C-17 during the USO Tour. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

“You’re going to see these troops in remote areas where this is their family. They haven’t seen their kids for months and years at a time, and they’re there to protect us,” Hamilton said they told him.

They started with a tour of the Pentagon, where they met Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife.

“They were some of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met in my life. I didn’t expect that,” Hamilton said, instead thinking they would be prim, proper and no-nonsense, like you see in movies.

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, poses for a photo with NBA legend Rip Hamilton aboard a C-17 aircraft before departing on the annual Vice Chairman’s USO Tour, April 20, 2018. DoD photo by James K. McCann

The next stop was at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska before flying to Japan and South Korea. Djibouti in Africa was supposed to be next, but they had airplane issues, so they lost that tour stop and had to adjust. Everyone quickly decided to extend the trip.

“Everyone was willing to put aside whatever we had to do back home because we knew how important this experience was to be with the troops,” Hamilton said.

So they finished the tour visiting Iraq, Afghanistan and Spain.

Rip Hamilton poses for a photo with members of the 374th Medical Support Squadron after a display of how they receive and stage wounded warriors for entertainers visiting Yokota Air Base, Japan. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K McCann

Hamilton was surprised and honored to see dozens of troops wearing his jersey. He even ran into a service member who grew up in the same small town as he did – Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

“My town has 11,000 people in it, and [one service member] grew up three doors from the house I grew up in. It was absolutely crazy,” Hamilton recalled. “We were able to share stories about how we grew up and why he joined the military. It was cool.”

Comedian Jon Stewart tries on Rip Hamilton’s NBA Championship ring after checking out a C-130J Super Hercules while visiting Yokota Air Base, Japan. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

He and the troops chatted, they took photos with his 2004 NBA championship ring, and they even played some ball.

“A lot of guys challenged me to one-on-one,” he joked.

Rip Hamilton, comedian Jon Stewart and pro fighter Max “Blessed” Holloway pose for a photo with UH-1 Huey helicopter aircrew after a Tokyo aerial helicopter tour from Yokota Air Base, Japan. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

With all the sights to see, autographs to give and planes to catch, Hamilton said the best part of his trip was hearing the service members’ stories. He was shocked at the level of maturity those in their teens and early 20s had.

“I had one conversation with one of the kids who’s the head of his squad. One of his roles was to go out and train Afghan soldiers,” Hamilton said, not knowing that was part of the military mission. “I thought that was amazing because … we just think it’s U.S. soldiers protecting the U.S.”

Hamilton thanks members of the 374th Medical Support Squadron, and they exchange a challenge coin. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

He was very impressed by the intelligence, technology and preparation needed in a war zone.

“The level of intel that we have to protect our soldiers over there – how they can detect if something shot at troops, or when it comes to a blimp in the air that takes satellite pictures for miles and miles around,” he said. “When I went over there, I felt secure. I didn’t feel like it was a combat zone.”

NBA legend Rip Hamilton checks out various cargo loading vehicles while visiting Yokota Air Base, Japan. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

Hamilton was thankful he was able to join the tour and bring a little cheer to the men and women serving our country – especially those stationed far from home.

“I met one kid over there who said, ‘Rip, I was feeling down being in this remote area, but you just brightened my day up,’” Hamilton said.

Entertainers pose for a photo with members of the the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, the first stop on the annual Vice Chairman’s USO Tour. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

The experience was one he’ll never forget, and it may have even made him an advocate for more NBA players to do the same.

“I think more guys should go over there from the league,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do more, and I’m going to continue to broadcast this as best I possibly can … to get guys over there and give their time and spend it with the troops.”

USO tours are all about thanking service members and their families for what they do every day for our nation, so we hope you make that happen, Rip!

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