Miami Heat

Veterans grateful for opportunity to work at NBA Finals

Desert Storm veteran Nick Ortiz transported bombs and bullets during U.S. Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the first two games of the NBA Finals between the Heat and San Antonio, Ortiz transported cable for TV camera crews.

Ortiz and three other U.S. military reservists stationed in Perrine did TV’s version of grunt work for coverage of the NBA Finals games from AmericanAirlines Arena.

They got the jobs as part of a program begun during last year’s NBA Finals between Miami and Oklahoma City and run by a partnership between the NBA and the U.S. Army.

The Army Reserve Employer Partnership Office helps the league find retired or active duty local reservists who are unemployed or underemployed. They, in conjunction with The Sports Video Group and Veterans in Production, give some of those reservists a chance to work with NBA Entertainment during the NBA All-Star Game and the NBA Finals, providing both a job and perhaps a start toward working in a steadily growing industry.

In the past three years, NBC, CBS and Fox debuted sports networks. Each of the four major sports leagues plus golf and tennis has its own network.

Two hours before game time, pregame shows and standups for NBA TV, ESPN and ABC took up more space on the floor than any early arriving players casually getting in extra warmup jumpers.

Ortiz, of Davie, calls himself “a carpenter” but says he hasn’t had a regular civilian job in five years.

“It’s difficult to get something,” Ortiz said. “This is the first job that pays over $20 an hour. It’s only for a few days. But I’ve got an opportunity if I want to continue this.”

All four men working Sunday’s Game 2 of the Finals, won by the Heat 103-84, are reservists out of the Luis E. Martinez U.S. Army Reserve Center in southern Miami-Dade County.

“I work at a country club during season, so this opportunity came up perfectly,” said Naples’ resident Matthew St. Marc, who is also a criminal justice major at Florida Gulf Coast University.

St. Marc did two tours in Iraq as a transportation coordinator.

“It’s is nice to see the big picture of TV production,” St. Marc said. “We’re out here laying cable and wire. We did fiber optic cable from the floor all the way up to the balcony the other day. That was pretty cool to see how that works.”

At the other end of the court, also attired in a black vest identifying him as a member of ABC’s NBA Finals behind-the-camera crew, was Pahokee’s Fredrick Woods. Woods, who left the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office May 31 after almost 20 years, also served multiple tours in Iraq as a transportation coordinator.

“I was in a support element, so I wasn’t out there doing reconnaissance,” Woods said. “I’m not there in the fire, searching out the enemy. So, I was kind of in a safe zone — if there is such a thing over there.”

Watching Woods for direction by example was Fort Lauderdale’s Dwight Gilzene, a truck driver (“88 Mike,” Gilzene said, proudly giving the military slang for drivers) through two tours in Iraq. Gilzene said he works security in civilian life.

While football is more associated with the military — bombs, blitzes, two-platoon/one-platoon, “field general” quarterbacks directing their “receiving corps” — the NBA energetically maintains a relationship with the armed forces. Several teams honor veterans at games and/or have discounted tickets for veterans or active personnel.

Before every home game, the Heat honors a South Floridian who just returned from duty in Iraq or Afghanistan as its “Home Strong” hero of the night.

The team, which held its 2011 training camp at Air Force installations around Florida, also sends care packages to U.S. military overseas.

The Heat’s NBA Finals opponent is coached by Air Force Academy graduate Gregg Popovich and owned by Vietnam War veteran Peter Holt, who pledged $1 million to an education center at the Washington, D.C., wall honoring those who died in that war.

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