Epsom, NH resident Dave Cummings hugs Nancy Decoteau after making his millionth free throw to honor military veterans at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Decoteau's son, Marc, was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.

Dave Cummings hugs Nancy Decoteau after making his millionth free throw to honor military veterans at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Decoteau’s son, Marc, was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. (Doug Tribou/Only A Game)

In January 2010, Only A Game first reported on Dave Cummings and his quest to make one million free throws to raise money for U.S. military veterans and their families. We also covered his 500,000th shot, which he made on Veterans Day last year.

Dave Cummings has made an average of more than 1300 free throws every day since Veterans’ Day 2009. Friday, Cummings walked onto the court at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts for his final trip to the free throw line – 1000 shots away from his goal. The 44-year-old came up with the idea as a way to pay tribute to U.S. military veterans and raise money to help wounded vets and their families. Cummings calls the project, Hoops for Heroes and his slogan has been, “One Million Shots. Endless Gratitude.”

“I know that almost sounds cliché but it’s really how I feel,” Cummings said.  “And that’s the part that, even though the basketball will be gone and the shots will be gone, I want that second half, the gratitude piece, to continue.”

Hall of Fame CEO John Doleva says Hoops for Heroes is one of the most creative uses of basketball he’s ever seen.

“I think he represents the citizens of the country. He really represents each and every one of us that aren’t in a hall of fame, or aren’t quote unquote ‘heroes,'” Doleva said.  “Each and every Hall of Famer would believe their efforts and their accomplishments pale in comparison to a veteran who’s on the front lines or someone’s that lost their lives defending our country. We’re just so honored to have Dave here and be a part of this.”

 

 

Tom “Satch” Sanders played on eight championship teams for the Boston Celtics between 1960 and 1973 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. The Celtics had Cummings shoot during a timeout at the TD Garden in 2010. Friday Sanders and a team official presented Cummings with a Celtics jersey with the number “1M”. Sanders says too many people assume the government or big charity organizations are the only groups capable of helping veterans.

NBA great Tom "Satch" Sanders (l) rebounds with the Cummings family as Dave Cummings shoots at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. (Doug Tribou/Only A Game)

NBA great Tom “Satch” Sanders (l) rebounds with the Cummings family as Dave Cummings shoots at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.    (Doug Tribou/Only A Game)

“Then you come up with a gentleman like Dave Cummings and you see him reach out and find something special to do as an individual,” Sanders said. “And then it makes you begin to take a look at yourself and say, ‘Hmm. What could I could I do?’”

One of Cummings inspirations has been Marc Decoteau, a Waterville Valley, N.H. resident who was killed while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. Decoteau’s family was on hand Friday and his father, also named Marc, says they’ve received a lot of support from their community and he hopes Hoops for Heroes will motivate others to do the same for veterans.

“To be there for the people who are wounded and just for the people who have served just to let them know that we appreciate them is so important,” Decoteau said. “We know that now not only from my family’s service but from the loss of our son we know how important that is.”

Cummings gives all of the money he raises to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a charity focused on U.S. military veterans and their families. The group’s projects include funding the construction of a $60-million medical center in Bethesda, Maryland for veterans with traumatic brain injuries. When we first spoke in 2010, Cummings was about to knock down his 100,000th shot. His goal was to raise $1 million and he was confident he’d make it. With the Hall of Fame donating a portion of Friday’s ticket sales the total Cummings has raised will be nearly $70,000. Cummings admits he thought bringing in money would be easier.

“[I thought] I’ll shoot and the fundraising will take care of itself. But that’s a job unto itself and I was not equipped to do that,” Cummings said. “And at the end of the day, I would say that’s a small disappointment, but the more than 1000 and maybe as many as 1500 individual contributions  means a lot.”

Dave Cummings speaks just before making the final free throws to bring his total to 1,000,000 made shots in two years. (Doug Tribou/Only A Game)

Dave Cummings speaks just before making the final 100 free throws to bring his total to 1,000,000 made shots in two years. (Doug Tribou/Only A Game)

Cummings makes about 90 percent of his shots and with one ball and one rebounder can knock down about 800 an hour. Cummings has a full-time job in public relations and sits on the school board in Epsom, NH where he lives with his wife and three children. During our first interview, just two months into the project, Cummings already had a clear understanding of the impact Hoops for Heroes would have on his schedule, but he was looking forward to the challenge.

 

“I really honestly think of it as a privilege to do this,” Cummings told Only A Game in 2010.
“And it’s fun. I’m not thinking about one million, I’m thinking about the trip to one million and it’s a great trip.”

Friday morning with the crowd of about 150 people on its feet, counting down the number of shots left, Dave Cummings reached his destination.

After the final shot, Cummings took a minute to reflect about what Hoops for Heroes really meant to him.

“What I always think of is September 12, [2001], the spirit of September 12. I always think of unity,” Cummings said. “That’s what I wanted to create in some small way with this project is to have a bunch of people with a common purpose for something good.

Then he went back to thanking all the people who’d come … who were lined up to thank him.