Spurs owner Peter Holt's past puts NBA offseason in perspective

San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt made an emotional return to Vietnam in January.
San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt made an emotional return to Vietnam in January. (Ronald Martinez/getty Images)
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By Mike Wise
Friday, July 16, 2010

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 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 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's 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 a human face 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.


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