It’s been nearly a decade since LT Fairley played football under the bright lights of Gautier High School in Mississippi. Fairley considered playing college football back then but instead enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
“The three years I served in the Navy was amazing,” Fairley said. “I learned teamwork and camaraderie. I learned skills that I use every single day in life and with the Mavericks.”
These days Fairley is known as Coach LT, the head coach of Mavs Gaming.
Mavs Gaming is the NBA 2K League affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks franchise.
The athletes are the best in the world at their craft.
I once asked the Dallas Mavericks team members if they compete or possibly win against the Mavs Gaming players. They didn’t even hesitate. No chance. Even NBA phenom Luka Dončić, who is ultra-competitive, knew to give respect where it’s due.
This upcoming season will be the fifth professional season for the NBA2K League. Fairley is entering his fourth season leading the team. He also pours a significant amount of time teaching his athletes how to lead on and off the court.
LT was built for this.
Most importantly, he knows it’s a luxury and privilege to coach in this league. But there will be plenty of time to talk about the upcoming season later.
For now, Fairley wants others to learn more about the people here with us tonight to celebrate Veterans Day. Courageous men and women, he says, who are far greater role models and leaders than any athlete or coach.
“It’s these brave veterans,” he says, as he points out into the room, “who deserve the spotlight. Not me.”
FOOD, FELLOWSHIP —AND FRIENDLY COMPETITION
Thursday night, about 30 people arrived at the Mavs Gaming Hub in Deep Ellum for a Veterans Day celebration.
Mavs Gaming teamed up with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) to host a special two-day NBA2K22 clinic led by Fairley. Day one was a virtual coaching clinic to learn the fundamentals and skills of the game.
For the second day, the veterans arrived in person with their family members and guests for a celebration. The event took place at the Mavs Gaming Hub and Mavs Gaming forward Zaeya “Zae” Ishak flew in from Chicago for the event. Mavs executives and Mavs ManiAACs all joined the festivities.
The wounded veterans and their families and friends ate a hearty meal and then took a tour around the Mavs Gaming Hub. The adults laughed and shared stories while many children and teens grabbed the controllers and went to town on games. The room spilled with laughter and joy. There was a sense of community and oneness.
Otis Jamison joined the U.S. Army over three decades ago to serve. He ended up making the military his career and retired as a first sergeant.
Jamison and his wife have been married 30 years, and they arrived Thursday night with their only son, a freshman at SMU.
On paper, their story seems like a fairytale, but Jamison says there’s more to his journey. He lost men in his platoon, and he never forgets their names and faces. When Jamison returned to civilian life, the tragedy didn’t stop there. He then lost family members and later held his wife’s hand as she battled cancer twice.
“After several tours of combat, I noticed that I was going through an astronomical amount of depression,” Sgt. Jamison said. “I was looking for a vehicle to help me with the normal side of civilization. I reached out to Wounded Warriors, who played an instrumental part in helping me with my post-traumatic stress. It didn’t completely resolve, but it’s controllable now. Now I realize the power in telling your story.”
Sgt. Jamison is new to gaming, and he said that he loves the sense of community.
“I’m learning,” he shared with a giant smile. “It’s so relaxing, but more than anything, it gives us a chance to focus on something else other than the trauma we endured. I really enjoy being around the people and doing things like this with my family.”
Video games can be transformative in the lives of many wounded veterans because it’s a way they can connect with others.
Several of them told me that it’s an excellent way to quiet the racing thoughts and calm the anxiety that can sometimes grip their life.
Others see video games as therapeutic because they can interact with fellow comrades who understand their PTSD and can relate.
And — like Sgt. Jamison explained — who better to teach them how to play than the professionals?
THE LOVE OF GAMING CONTINUES TO GROW
According to the Wounded Warrior Project, many veterans say their experiences in the military were some of the best of their lives, filled with camaraderie, meaning, and direction.
But upon return to civilian life, the isolation they face can be daunting.
Gaming allows them a chance to connect with other warriors and gives them a sense of unity with the online gaming community.
WWP saw an uptick in gamers during the pandemic. Many wanted to pick up a controller to bring them closer to their children and family members. Some warriors just longed for connection, any connection, and the video gaming community is safe and supportive.
“November is a special time with the Mavericks because we really focus on our military,” said Tray Thompson, who oversees community relations with Mavs Gaming.
“COVID was such an adjustment for everybody, and people are designed for community. We need to be together. I think that’s why this Veterans Day celebration feels extra special. We wanted to bring all the Wounded Warriors here and their immediate families for something uplifting and fun. Mavs Gaming is thankful to honor the troops and their families because they paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Back in May, Mavs Gaming partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project for a mental health awareness project.
Gaming was a vital part of the event, but unity and connection played a more significant role. The wounded veterans shared with the Mavs Gaming team how playing games helps them combat PTSD.
Daniel Ruppert is a veteran and leads the gaming and engagement program with the Wounded Warrior Project. He spent about 10 years in the military and he’s been all over the world. Now Ruppert helps other veterans connect. He said once WWP started a gaming program, it grew fast.
“We’re about to hit 3,000 in our discord, and we may hit it today,” he explained with excitement. “We just started this thing in December, and we decided to make it an actual program. We see how it’s reaching warriors where they’re at in life. We’re connecting with warriors who might be remote that may not be interactive. And here we are doing something as amazing as this tonight.”
Thompson, with Mavs Gaming, says Thursday was rewarding for everyone in attendance. He believes the Veterans Day celebration is just the first of many more events together.
“As an NBA2K League franchise, we’re going to do the best in our power to focus on our community and people here locally,” Thompson said. “And what better way to do it than to love and support our troops.”
ABOUT HOOPS FOR TROOPS WEEK:
Each year, the Mavs and NBA family comes together for Hoops for Troops Week in celebration of Veterans Day (U.S.) and Remembrance Day (Canada) to recognize and honor our active-duty military, veterans, and their families. Throughout the week, NBA and NBA G League teams, players, coaches, and referees will work closely with members of the military to positively impact communities.
The Mavericks have several activations throughout the week to honor and recognize active-duty military and veterans at home and abroad. Serving together is critical in hopes of building stronger connections and communities in North Texas. Last week, Mavs center Moses Brown teamed up with the Texas Ramp Project to build two wheelchair ramps for veterans: click here to read.
ABOUT WOUNDED WARRIORS PROJECT: Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.
As we raise awareness & support of our veterans this month, we are hosting a virtual clinic with our @WWP family 🇺🇸@GeauxPlayES will be joining Head Coach @LTFairley & our PF @ZaeBucks to get to know our warriors and teach them the fundamentals of @NBA2K 🎮 pic.twitter.com/oBXQpcQnRc
— Mavs Gaming (@MavsGG) November 10, 2021