Mansfield man inducted into Hall of Fame

May 26, 2024
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Charles Caldwell, his wife Bobbie and daughter Charae are shown being honored at his Dermott, Ark., high school. Caldwell has now been inducted into the Military Basketball Hall of Fame. (Courtesy photo)

By Amanda Rogers

Mansfield Record

Charles Caldwell has spent his life playing basketball in different leagues and different venues around the world with players like Michael Jordan and David Robinson. Now, basketball is paying tribute to him.

Caldwell, 63, was inducted into the Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame on May 23 in Philadelphia, in only the second class of inductees into the hall.

“It’s an honor for being acknowledged for doing something good,” said the Mansfield resident. “Basketball is my life.”

Caldwell has spent almost 60 years playing basketball, being honored in every league he has played in, mostly for the United States Air Force, where he was named All Air Force, All Armed Forces and All World.

But playing for the military wasn’t Caldwell’s dream – he had his sights set on the NBA from the time he learned to play at age 5.

The “Big C” earned his nickname and his reputation in high school, when he grew 18 inches in the summer between his eighth- and ninth-grade years, landing at 6-foot-6 and 162 pounds. By the time he graduated from Dermott (Ark.) High School in 1978, he had been named all-district twice and led his district in scoring and rebounds, and earning him the attention of Philadelphia 76ers’ center Caldwell Jones and Albany (Ga.) State College.

Jones recruited the Caldwell to his alma mater, Albany State, where Caldwell went on to be named the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference outstanding freshman. After a year and a half, he headed home to play for the University of Arkansas at Monticello, where he was eventually named a preseason All-American his senior year.

Caldwell left college in 1982, attended some camps and got an offer to play basketball in South America. But his grandfather was dying, so he declined. When his grandfather died in May 1983, he enlisted in the Air Force.

That’s where Caldwell hit his stride. By November 1983, he had graduated from basic training and was stationed in Little Rock, Ark., playing basketball. His jobs were Morale Welfare and Recreation and Aerospace Control and Warning System Operator, and he was deployed five times, including Desert Storm.

And he played a lot of basketball. In 1987, the Air Force let him play in an NBA summer league and he was signed by an agent. Unfortunately, the agent wasn’t registered so his NBA offers from Seattle and Washington went up in smoke.

“Man has plans in his heart, but his footsteps are directed by God,” Caldwell said.

While he was in the Air Force, he also earned three associate degrees, a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and a master’s degree in business.

And he won basketball tournaments around the world, playing for 25 years. He was even featured on the cover of a 1990 Airman Magazine with Michael Jordan, who went on to become a legend with the Chicago Bulls.

“(Jordan) was with the German National team,” Caldwell said. “They beat us by 12 points.”

Caldwell played his last game for the Air Force on March 4, 2008, at the Yokota Air Base in Tokyo.

“We won the championship on Friday and I got a letter that I was 100 percent medically disabled and retired on Monday,” he said. “They said my knees were so bad that I couldn’t walk up stairs. I had just dunked on somebody.”

By June 2008, Caldwell, his wife Bobbie and daughter Charae were settled in Mansfield.

“My wife pulled up all the schools in the United States and (Mansfield) was the best one,” he said.

While Bobbie was a federal employee as a defense contractor and Charae was a sophomore at Legacy High School, Caldwell couldn’t find his place.

“When I got out, nobody would give me a job,” he said. “I was told I was over-qualified.”

So Caldwell became a full-time mentor and volunteer, spending his days with students at the Phoenix Academy with the Discipline Alternative Education Program, mentoring students at other campuses and volunteering with a prison ministry.

“November 1999 was the last time I saw my brother, Christopher Caldwell,” he said. “On Dec. 1, 1999, he took five shots to the chest. That’s why I mentor.

“My brother was 33,” Caldwell said. “At one time, he was a crackhead. He went to prison and started selling cocaine. The cocaine got him.”

Caldwell has had problems of his own.

“I struggled with alcohol because I thought I was a failure because I didn’t make it to the NBA,” he said. “All my trials and tribulations made me who I am. Kids listen to me because of what I’ve been through. I’ve been through some things.”

Caldwell gave up alcohol in 2015, and his mentoring has paid off.

“This year I had at least 10 kids tell me they were going to quit selling drugs,” said Caldwell, with a catch in his voice.

In April, the Mansfield ISD named him the Outstanding Mentor of the Year.

In December, Caldwell got the call that he was going into the Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame, which includes a jacket and a huge ring presented at a banquet in Philadelphia.

Caldwell said he has learned a lot. After praying for years to be in the NBA, he is finally a hall of famer in the MBA.

“I learned that you have to pray specifically,” he said with a smile.

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Mansfield, Texas, is a booming city, nestled between Fort Worth and Dallas, but with a personality all its own. The city’s 76,247 citizens enjoy an award-winning school district, vibrant economy, historic downtown, prize-winning park system and community focus spread across 37 square miles. The Mansfield Record is dedicated to reporting city and school news, community happenings, police and fire news, business, food and restaurants, parks and recreation, library, historical archives and special events. The city’s only online newspaper launched in September 2020 and will offer introductory advertising rates for the first three months at three different rates.

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