If you showed up late for the game this past Saturday night, you might have wondered why the heck all the people in the front row were wearing the same t-shirt or camouflage uniforms.

If everyone around you was just as clueless or the information didn’t trickle through your area, you would have had to wait until the second period for the announcement to come over the PA system.

The announcement honored the people sitting in the front row who were special guests of the Mavericks. The regular front row people were scattered around the arena or sitting at home because they donated their normal seats to the cause.

The Mavericks, Neal Hawks, front row season ticket holders, American Airlines, Abacus Restaurant, and BP American made sure that these men and women had the night of a lifetime.

Nearly everyone sitting on the front row Saturday night suffered a catastrophic injury while serving the in U.S. Military overseas.

The event, entitled “Seats for Soldiers”, was started five years ago by Dallas Mavericks front row season ticket holder Neal Hawks. The Hawks Foundation solicits the tickets from the other front row season ticket holders then gives them away to 150 soldiers and military personnel who are currently residing at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio while they receive treatment for their injuries.

The soldiers are flown to Dallas on an American Airlines private charter from San Antonio. Once they land in Dallas they are taken by bus to Abacus, which is one of the finest restaurants in Dallas located on Mckinney Avenue near Knox. At Abacus they are given the royal treatment and some of the best viddles they have ever eaten.

Once they finish supper and arrive at the arena they are ushered directly to courtside.

Hey, buddy, must be in the front row!!!

Sitting in the front row of a NBA basketball game offers an opportunity that a small percentage of Mavericks fans ever get to experience at the American Airlines Center. For one night this special group of service men and women get to see what it is like to be in the front row.

Did I mention that food comes gratis with the seats in the front row? Not that the soldiers are hungry after Abacus, but hey it’s free, so they indulged in cotton candy, hot dogs, chicken tenders, sundaes, and every hard candy under the sun. Alcohol was not included with the seats, but most of the soldiers were sent beer from the appreciative fans around them.

Just before the game is about to start, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban makes his way around the court greeting all the soldiers. They smile, take pictures, hug, and generally try to soak up as much of the experience as they possibly can as Mark blurs by in hopes of greeting them all before tip-off.

As Humble Billy Hayes made the announcement that identified these men and women as soldiers who were wounded serving our country, the crowd erupted in applause. Appropriately, Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be American” was piped over the PA system as background music.

On its own the song might not be able to reach you emotionally. It’s possible that you might be able to keep your cool if you hear the song while taking a shower or driving down 75-Central. But I assure you, hearing the song while standing with 150 wounded United States Military men and women -- you got no choice but to be moved. You are standing in the same space as soldiers who live the words of this song. Men and women who know first hand what the words to this song mean in a very real way, not just the American Top 40-type of way. Soldiers that have lost limbs for the exact words and freedom that we all enjoy every day as United States citizens. It’s an electric moment for 20,050 fans who get to enjoy basketball 44 other nights a year (plus playoffs) because these guys and others like them are on guard 24/7, 365.

It is a real moment in a fantasy world. We are very lucky.

After the game, the soldiers get to stick around and meet and greet all the players. The solders are split up into four groups, and each group is sent to the stand near the corners of the basketball court. There they wait for the luck of the draw to see what players will come visit their corner. Each group is under the impression that the players will be divided among the groups, So there is a little anxiety and anticipation to see who gets to meet Dirk Nowitzki.

The first year the Mavericks did this event, Dirk Nowitzki walked out and was told which group he was to visit and was ushered in that direction. As he was walking to his assigned group, all the other soldiers were screaming his name. He asked why he only got to visit one group because he thought he should meet them all. So it has been his tradition to meet, take pictures, and autograph items for all the soldiers that visit on Seats for Soldiers night.

This year, Jason Terry visited with every soldier and as only Jason can do, he makes his round with more enthusiasm than a Tony Robbins speech.

Jason Kidd, who was attending the event for the first time, also greeted every person with a smile and a handshake.

It was a very cool late night for everyone. The soldiers felt lucky to meet their on-court basketball heroes, and the players felt lucky to be able to meet their real life heroes.

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Comment by mayday mike on December 19, 2008 at 9:32am
Neal Hawks is equally as gererous a man in his community of Flower Mound. Thanks for sharing your kindness with us Neal !
Comment by Kim Roulias on December 18, 2008 at 12:52pm
God bless the USA, and God bless everybody who makes this event possible. It was so memorable and touching. We definitely have some first-class athletes who care about the community and the world. Good job writing this article, too, Danny, thank you.

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