Jerry Zgoda's NBA Insider: Wolves' Cunningham learned lessons in 'honorable'

  • Updated: November 17, 2012 - 9:27 PM

The Wolves' Dante Cunningham lived a military lifestyle as a son of two longtime members of the Air Force.

Dante Cunningham, left, with his mother.

Photo: Provided by the Cunningham family,

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The Timberwolves honor Minnesota's troops and military veterans throughout November, a month of ceremony and festivity that makes Dante Cunningham feel like he has come home even though he's a thousand miles away from Andrews Air Force base where he grew up.

A self-described "military brat" and proud of it, Cunningham's bed at home and his locker at Target Center might not indicate he has spent a lifetime around the military.

But his presence in the NBA does.

"My room is a mess, I don't tuck the corners and everything like that," he said. "But definitely just the drive and determination to work hard -- to do better and get better -- I got from being around the military."

His father, Ron, and mother, Searcy, spent 30 years each in the Air Force, much of that time spent working as mechanics on Air Force One and Air Force Two, the planes of the president and vice president.

He remembers walking through Andrews hangars when he was a boy and seeing jet aircraft engines torn apart, their parts labeled and spread across the ground waiting to be reassembled. He remembers a childhood partly spent on the flight lines, where aircraft are parked, loaded and serviced.

"I was tiny then, so I could actually fit in the cockpit," he said.

Well, not quite tiny, but small enough to fit.

He always was a big child, big enough when he was 4 1/2 to play with the 6-year-olds when his parents were stationed for four years at Ramstein Air Force base, Germany.

He played for the "Blazers" there way back when, and found it a little more than coincidental that he was chosen many years later, after he grew to be 6-8, out of Villanova by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2009 draft's second round.

His parents never raised him in a "Yes sir, no sir" household exactly -- more like just "Yes" and "No," his mother says -- but they did influence him with their workdays.

"They never brought their work home necessarily, but they did bring home just the core values of being honorable, being a great person, the things the military instills into all their people," he said. "They brought me to be the man I am today."

There was a time when he was a teenager that Cunningham thought he might follow the military life, but basketball directed him along another path to Villanova and ultimately the NBA.

"My coach at Villanova always said I made a great soldier," he said, referring to Wildcats coach Jay Wright. "I was able to carry out orders and deliver orders to the team and just make things happen without him even being there."

Cunningham and five other teammates visited with Purple Heart recipients, returning troops and veterans and their families at a downtown Minneapolis restaurant on Tuesday, where an early Thanksgiving meal was served at an event the team's FastBreak Foundation called "Give Thanks."

Cunningham met four generations of war veterans that night, and spoke with a 101-year-old vet who drove himself to dinner.

"It's such a warm feeling to be around that, just growing up and understanding where these families come from with me being a military brat myself," he said. "It just opens up your eyes to the world, traveling overseas, seeing different things that you ordinarily wouldn't get to do. It makes you the person you've come to be."

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