An owner with more on his mind

MIKE WISE | THE WASHINGTON POST Spurs’ Holt puts LeBron-a-thon in per­spec­tive

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS BRIEFING -

An NBA owner I hadn’t spo­ken to in a few years called the other day. Be­fore we talked about the rea­son for our con­ver­sa­tion, he asked, “What’d you think of the LeBron-a-thon?” “A bit much,” I said. “Yeah, maybe just a bit,” Peter Holt said through a laugh. “I don’t know what went wrong there, but they must have had some bad blood when you hear ev­ery­thing.”

In a way, Holt also had to deal with a 25-year-old leav­ing home this past year. Like any owner/fan, he has a pa­ter­nal side too. But free agency and South Beach weren’t try­ing to whisk his baby away from the San An­to­nio Spurs.

Holt’s daugh­ter was leav­ing for Viet­nam, for the first time.

Her fa­ther also went back, for the first time in 43 years.

“Un­be­liev­ably emo­tional,” Holt said.

She saw where her daddy fought and al­most died. She saw him weep over his friends who didn’t make it back. She saw him sit down across from the same peo­ple who tried to kill him all those years ago, be­fore he was the heir to the Cater­pil­lar heavy-ma­chin­ery man­u­fac­tur­ing for­tune and in­stead was just an ir­re­spon­si­ble kid who, af­ter drunk­enly lead­ing a po­lice a chase across South Texas, was given the fol­low­ing choice by a Cor­pus Christi judge: “Jail or the Army?”

That’s how the son of a mil­lion­aire ended up in the Tet Of­fen­sive, pulling the trig­ger as an in­fantry­man along­side poor kids whose fa­thers’ con­nec­tions and money couldn’t get them out of Viet­nam.

“I think it gives her a more worldly view of where I was at her age as op­posed to where she is now,” Holt said. “It helps with per­spec­tive, no doubt about it.”

It has been a grim week or so in the sports-owner busi­ness, a week that needs a story not about a feud in Cleve­land or fu­neral for the Boss in New York or even Jerry Jones or Mark Cuban. We need one about an orig­i­nal Texan, how he con­tin­ues to make sac­ri­fices four decades af­ter he served his coun­try.

Holt called to say he was per­son­ally pledg­ing $1 mil­lion to the con­struc­tion of an ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter to be built be­neath the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial on the Mall, an $85 mil­lion project that will give the names on the wall hu­man faces and iden­tity be­yond the chis­eled gran­ite. On Wed­nes­day, he asked fel­low Tex­ans to meet that pledge in or­der to honor their 3,416 names on the wall, the third-most Viet­nam ca­su­al­ties by state.

The goal is to dis­play all 58,267 pho­tos, along with sto­ries, letters and many of the more than 100,000 me­men­tos now stored in a Bethesda, Md., ware­house by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

“Some will be of them in foot­ball uni­forms or with fam­ily mem­bers be­fore they left,” Holt said.

“We don’t want them re­mem­bered as just fight­ing and dy­ing in Viet­nam. We want peo­ple to know that this was some­one’s cousin or un­cle or brother or grand­fa­ther. They’re go­ing to be im­mor­tal­ized in a way they haven’t be­fore.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial Fund, about $26 mil­lion has been raised for the mu­seum — mean­ing, as chief fundraiser, Holt has his work cut out for him. In this econ­omy he knows not all the other 49 states can go to www. buildthe­cen­ter.org to match his pledge. But he’s hope­ful peo­ple will not for­get, ei­ther.

He was in Viet­nam by Septem­ber 1967. Dur­ing the spring of 1968, a frag­mented bul­let lodged in Holt’s neck. He had vol­un­teered with two other sol­diers to res­cue his fel­low sol­diers from a burn­ing tank in the mid­dle of a large ceme­tery.

Holt played dead for seven hours, us­ing the bod­ies of two com­rades to blan­ket him­self un­til the North Viet­namese pulled back. As he saw the Amer­i­cans roll past, he stuck up his arm and was pulled to safety.

“We got am­bushed, and I had no place to go,” he re­called. “It was an open field. We were on one side, and they were in a tree line on the other side. It was day­light, and there was no cover.”

There were other fire­fights, and in Holt’s unit, only one other sol­dier who orig­i­nally came in with him re­turned home alive. He per­son­ally knew 54 sol­diers from his com­pany whose names are on the wall. He was later awarded the Sil­ver Star, three Bronze Stars and the Pur­ple Heart.

Dur­ing his tour of duty, no one ever knew he was the son of a mil­lion­aire, or that his old man later told Holt’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer at a re­union that he could’ve got his son a de­fer­ment but that, “Peter wanted to pay his dues.”

“They didn’t choose to go,” Holt said, through a slight drawl. “And we did the best we could when we got there.”

Dur­ing his trip back this past Jan­uary, Holt fi­nally met the en­emy face to face dur­ing a lunch and re­cep­tion in Ho Chi Minh City, still known as Saigon.

“They call it the ‘Amer­i­can war’ over there,” he said. “Some of the men were am­putees. Some were wounded in other ways. Look, we were in­vad­ing their coun­try. At the end, we were talk­ing sol­dier to sol­dier, two guys who had gone through sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences, thank­ful we were sur­vivors and still sad many of our friends weren’t.”

Gifts were ex­changed. Tears were shed. No one was “Char­lie” any­more.

Af­ter get­ting off the phone with Peter Holt, it was a good re­minder there are things more im­por­tant than the LeBron-a-thon.

Amy Sancetta

San An­to­nio Spurs owner Peter Holt, cen­ter, cel­e­brates the 2007 NBA ti­tle with play­ers. Holt saw ac­tion in Viet­nam and is do­nat­ing $1 mil­lion for a ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter near the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

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