Oliver’s duty to country trumps his childhood dreams

Paul Oliver grew up with dreams of playing in the NBA. When his father, a full-bird colonel, sent him to West Point Military Academy, he ran off.

“I didn’t want to go to West Point because I wanted to be in the NBA,” Oliver said. “I had a scholarship to the University of Washington. I wanted to be a Huskie, then get drafted.”

Instead of going to college, Oliver enlisted in the Army on his own. He said he became an Army Ranger and went without playing basketball for more than 10 years. 

“I was so distraught that I didn’t even watch any games,” Oliver said.

Oliver started playing basketball again once in a federal prison.

“In the federal pens, the best ballers played in competitions,” Oliver said. “I saw that Rucker’s like atmosphere and wanted to play.”

One might wonder what Oliver’s game was like when he was a young man after seeing what he’s able to do at 60 years old.

In 2014 and 2015, he played for the San Quentin Warriors.

“I didn’t have a lot of playing time,” Oliver said. “I was just happy to sit there talking to Alvin Gentry.”

Gentry came into the prison for the annual game against the Golden State Warriors staff. Gentry coached Golden State in the second half, after Steve Kerr left.

In 2016, Oliver played with a bunch of younger men on an intramural team called the Bay Area Ballers. He often helped his team with double-doubles in scoring and rebounding. In a historic championship game, where the Bay Area Ballers only had three players in a full court game against The Franchise roster of five starters plus three subs, Oliver had 18 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.

“Playing with the youngsters gave me the sense of being a leader, and it felt like I was back in the Rangers,” Oliver said. “I had a squad of good cats that had the fight in them to never give up.”

This year, Oliver made the S.Q. Kings 40-and-over team.

“I tried out for the Kings to see if I could make the team,” Oliver said. “I want to play against outside sponsor Ted Saltveit and his Bittermen team. I like to kick it with him.”

These days, Oliver plays sports for a much different reason than making the NBA.

“I play sports to tire myself out so I can sleep at night,” Oliver said. “Every soldier has demons chasing him.”

–Rahsaan Thomas

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