Luke AFB Thunderbolts shoot for the sky

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katelynn Jackson
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

From camouflage to sports jerseys, Luke Air Force Base’s Thunderbolts basketball team exhibits excellence on and off the court. 

Since 2018, the Thunderbolts have maintained an impressive track record of taking home the Western Conference Finals (WCF) championship three times and winning two of four Military Basketball Association (MBA) finals. 

Their coach, Paris Daniel, a retired master sergeant and 56th Force Support Squadron Education Office technician, says that the team’s key to success isn’t in plays, but in its philosophy. 

“I always tell my players it is more than basketball,” said Paris. “First and foremost, you need to be a great Airman.” 

Paris explained that the values of hard work, accountability, and resiliency developed inside the court correlate outside as well, contributing to the 56th Fighter Wing’s mission of producing combat-ready Airmen. 

“Aside from the physical fitness benefits, basketball contributes to combat-readiness because you have to excel in the workplace first to be on the team,” said Paris. “If a job needs to be done, my guys are the first to raise their hand and the first to finish so they can put even more work in on the court.” 

As an education office technician, Paris supports personal development with his players by encouraging them to pursue a college education. 

“It is important for Airman to better themselves on a professional and personal level,” said Paris. “Therefore, it is important to me that my players are modeling this by going to school.” 

Currently, including the team managers, the Thunderbolts have 70% participation in higher education. 

“If I can say that 100% of the 22 members of Luke Air Force Base’s basketball team are actively pursuing their education that’ll mean more to me than any championship title ever could,” Paris said. 

The Thunderbolt’s play in the Pacific West Military Basketball Conference, consisting of eight military basketball teams playing on the West Coast of the U.S. The conference is part of the MBA and qualifies its top teams to compete in the WCF and the MBA Finals. 

The MBA was commissioned by retired Army combat veteran Mike Meyers, as a platform to build resiliency for active-duty Airmen. Paris support’s this ideology, stating that it has personally built resiliency into his own life. 

“When I was a young Airman, no matter what I was going through basketball was there for me,” Paris said. “As I got older when the stresses of rank, being a husband and father piled on, the basketball court stayed a consistent outlet and sanctuary in my life.” 

As the team prepares for the beginning of a new season in December, Paris explains that one aspect of their training concept will stay the same. 

“It’s easy to change up plays, but a consistent philosophy is going to get you through,” said Paris. “If we hold onto our foundation of the Airman concept, we will be ready when the money is on the line.” 

In today’s highly contested environment, the success of airpower depends on Airmen maximizing their potential to grow and serve the nation. The Airmen of Luke AFB’s basketball team continue to exemplify excellence and shoot for the sky, on and off the court, to win tomorrow’s fight.