WASHINGTON -- Martin Dempsey has long rooted for the Wizards, living in the Washington area for years while working in the Pentagon. So Monday's visit to the team's practice facility in Southeast D.C. certainly stood out among the annual trips he makes to speak with NBA teams.
The former Army general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is now a consultant to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and makes his rounds each year with five or six teams. He met with the Utah Jazz over the weekend while they were in town and then spent several days with the Wizards.
He had dinner on Sunday night with head coach Scott Brooks and his staff. And on Monday, he met with the players and other members of the organization. The purpose was to share his philosophy on leadership from his 41 years of experience working in the U.S. military.
"It's a good time for them to have the chance to ask questions to me that they might not be able to ask anybody else," Dempsey said.
"They have such a wonderful opportunity in their lives. How many young men and women in America want to be NBA and WNBA players? With that platform comes a responsibility to not just be the best athlete they can be. They have an opportunity to demonstrate what character looks like. So we talked about that balance in life, the life of a leader, of competence, hard skills, character and fabric. I'll tell you what. This group, they were into it."
The appreciation for Dempsey and his career was evident in the way Wizards players and general manager Tommy Sheppard interacted with the former military official. All-Star guard Bradley Beal took pictures with Dempsey to honor the occasion. Sheppard escorted Dempsey around to introduce him to members of the organization.
Dempsey says he has known Sheppard, who has children currently serving in the military, for a decade.
"Tommy is about a team of teams," Dempsey said. "The best of organizations, be they military organizations or basketball teams, are inclusive. You're in an organization where everybody feels a sense of belonging; everybody... I know that's what Tommy thinks about this franchise. It has to achieve an extraordinary level of inclusiveness if it hopes to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later."
As for the players, Dempsey wanted them to realize the influence they have in their communities, but also pass on lessons that could help them on the basketball court. He believes there are parallels to competing in a basketball game and the battlefield.
"I relate stories to them of the teams we build and send into places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We generally deploy our large force, but it usually comes down to 12-[person] squads out there, by themselves, trying to shape the future in terms of security," Dempsey said.
"I ask them, what do you think causes 12 men and women being willing to walk out of the gate and put themselves at risk to accomplish a mission? The answer is trust. I challenge them to consider how much do you trust each other? If the answer is to that is you would trust each other with your lives then you're on the right track. Everything else that happens on that foundation will be positive. If the answer is we really don't trust each other or don't trust some of us, then you have to work through that because you will see that."
The Wizards are trying to build a strong culture from the ground up and are exploring all kinds of ways to do so. Dempsey speaking with the team was the latest tactic and you can bet his voice carried some weight.
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