There’s a good chance that you would never have heard of Kwame James if not for some pieces written about him like this AP article at ESPN.com and this 2006 article at SI.com, and we wanted to do our part to spread his name among the masses. Outside of some college basketball fans in Evansville, Indiana, and minor league hoop fans in Brooklyn, those who haven’t actually met James (us included) might never know his story. And that would have been fine with him.
Better never to have heard of him than to remember him as a name on a long casualty list.
James was born in Canada and grew up in Trinidad, and played four years of college ball at Evansville. Back in 1999, he was on an Aces team that went to the NCAA Tournament (lost as an 11-seed in the first round to Kansas), the last Evansville squad to make it. If his name sounds familiar at all, this is probably not how you remember him, or why you now will.
According to the cited articles, two years later in December 2001, James was playing professional basketball in France and was on a Paris to Miami flight on the way to meet up with his girlfriend, and both of them were to fly to Trinidad for the holidays. While he was napping on the Paris-Miami leg, he was awakened by a yelling flight attendant who begged for his assistance with a little problem ten rows to the rear.
He was escorted near the back of the plane where he saw none other than Richard Reid — yes, the thankfully unsuccessful “shoe bomber” — being restrained by other passengers. We can only assume that the flight attendant awakened James because of his 6’8 and 250-pound size, but after Reid was restrained with belts and headphone cords — headphone cords?!? — it was Mr. James, at the behest of the flight’s captain, who sat on an armrest next to Reid for the remaining four hours of the flight and held him by the ponytail, acting as security until the flight could successfully divert to Boston. Keep in mind, this was in December 2001…barely three months after the 9/11 attacks.
This past Thursday — April 8, 2010 — James officially became an American citizen. It took a little longer than expected and required a little help from Hillary Clinton (a senator at the time), New York Representative Joe Crowley, and a resourceful immigration lawyer, but this particular Hero of Flight 63 — and there were many — was sworn in on Thursday in Atlanta. He might not play basketball professionally any more, but it was his love for the game that brought him here and his appreciation of our country that kept him here. All we can say is: Welcome, Sir. Thank you, and were glad to have you.