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Madsen Energized by Baghdad Trip

June 26, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

It's the NBA's down time, and some guys go to Cabo, others to Maui, wherever there are nightclubs or golf or whatever.

Mark Madsen went to Baghdad.

"We have some real heroes over there," he said Wednesday afternoon, four days after his 16-hour return trip. "I came home with this tremendous appreciation and feeling of awe for the U.S. Armed Forces. Now I understand why they call it the 'service.' They're providing a profound service for all of us."

As part of a joint USO-NBA effort, Madsen and dozens of other athletes, actors and entertainers left Washington on June 16 and returned Saturday. In between, the likes of Madsen, Wayne Newton, Kid Rock, Duce Staley, Bob Lanier, John and Rebecca Stamos and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders mingled, sang, danced and put on basketball clinics, Madsen sticking mostly to the basketball.

If you missed it, don't feel bad. The NBA did not publicize it, and Madsen had to be pressed for details.

"We were just doing it to do the right thing," said Brian McIntyre, a league senior vice president.

So, Madsen went along, shook a lot of hands, gathered a lot of e-mail addresses, made some promises to send back autographed basketballs, and heard a lot of stories. He met U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who on one flight from Kuwait City to Baghdad broke up everybody by pouring cold water on a dozing Cherokee Parks.

Madsen poked around one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, heard Kid Rock entertain 5,000 servicemen in a dusty hangar with "Sweet Home Alabama," then watched Parks, Shawn Marion and Troy Hudson get beat by three GIs in a three-point shooting contest; the Lakers would be glad to know Hudson misses on some continents.

In all, Madsen visited Baghdad twice, each time finding troops thrilled to see a 6-foot-9 piece of home, of normality.

"I just really wanted to go," Madsen said. "I wanted to do my part, give some sort of support for those great men and women. No. 2, I wanted to see that part of the world.

"The goal was to spend some time with the U.S. troops to build morale, to let them know we appreciate them. I'm telling you, they were so fired up. It was so intense.... It was so inspirational to see what they were doing."

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