This US Aircraft Carrier Hosted a College Basketball Game on Its Deck, It Was Wonderful

Syracuse vs SD State USS Midway 18 photos
Photo: Syracuse University
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USS Midway (CV-41) may have made its final voyage from Yokosuka bound for Pearl Harbor in August 1991. But in the pages of history, The story will read that this mighty post-WWII aircraft carrier had its final battle over two decades later. Not on the high seas, but a basketball court installed on the flight deck.
The USS Midway was one of post-war America's first great feats of Naval dominance after the fall of the Axis powers. The ship was laid down in the Newport News Shipping Yards in Virginia in 1943 and launched just two months before the surrender of the Germans in 1945. It was commissioned just in time for the Japanese to surrender aboard the USS Missouri in September of that same year.

The newly christened forefather of the Midway-class aircraft carrier never saw action in the Second World War. Still, the U.S. Navy had a litany of activities planned for the ship to keep it and her crew busy in the post-war years. One of its first significant deployments came with Operation Frostbite. A collective exercise meant to demonstrate novel American naval technology and tactics. The exercise included the new jet/piston hybrid fighter plane, the Ryan FR Fireball.

Midway also launched a reverse-engineered German V-2 ballistic missile off its deck, but that's a story so bizarre that it needs a story all its own another time. The ship is not known to have served in the Korean War, but Midway was put to good use in the First Taiwan Strait Crisis between China and Taiwan in 1954. In that incident, the Midway flew hundreds of cargo plane missions to ferry refugees from the Tachen Islands and supplies back and forth along the Taiwan Straight.

After a spot of controversy for not complying with South Africa's Apartheid system while in port at Cape Town, CV-41 had its old battery of dozens of anti-aircraft machine guns and cannons replaced with twin RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missile launchers and a Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS) as its main defenses. The ship sailed through multiple deployments during the War in Vietnam, with an F4 Phantom II fighter from among its ranks shooting down the first MiG jet of the war on June 17th, 1965.

USS Midway Basketball Game
Photo: Syracuse University
The ship returned to Vietnam on May 18th, 1971, and was credited as the home ship of the Phantom pilot, who made the last American air-to-air victory of the war. After Saigon had been overrun, the ship aided in Operation Frequent Wind, the mass evacuation of South Vietnam.

The ship had perhaps its most famous moment when a Republic of Vietnam Air Force Pilot, Major Buang-Ly, landed a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog packed full of his refugee family members safely onto its deck. Millions of dollars worth of Bell UH-1 Hueys were pushed overboard to ensure the stricken family could land safely.

The Midway would continue to serve through to 1991 when it participated in Operation Desert Storm as a grand final performance of its Navy service. In its day, the Midway carried everything From F-4 Phantom IIs, F4-J Furys, A-1 Skyraiders, and A-7 Corsairs to F-8 Crusaders, F-18 Hornets, Grumman Greyhound cargo haulers, and Tracer AWACS airplanes on its decks. The ship was decommissioned in April 1992 and became a permanent resident of San Diego, California, as a living museum.

This set the stage for, of all things, one of the strangest games of college basketball ever played. The day was November 11th, 2012. On this day, a portion of the deck aboard the mighty Midway is not covered in its usual steam catapults and fighter jets. Instead, there's a 94 feet long and 50 feet wide (28.6x15.2-m) slab of polished wood on board, the exact regulation size for an NCAA basketball court.

USS Midway Basketball Game
Photo: United States Navy
The court nestled nicely inside the 1,000-foot-plus long flight deck of Midway. A perfect venue to watch the hometown 20th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs take on the Big East powerhouse, ninth-ranked Syracuse Orange. Safe to say, the visiting teams from New York were greeted with views they wouldn't find at home.

"The background wasn't like any outdoor court. It was so open. You could see the water. They had planes and all their equipment on the deck," Syracuse center Dajuan Coleman told university media after the game. In a heartwarming show, Syracuse utility player Nick Resavy stopped by the ship's museum portion with a few teammates before the game. Snapping a selfie of the same type of F-18 Hornet jet fighter his former Navy pilot brother used to fly.

With crushing 2-3 zone defense and fine performances from Forward CJ Fair and Point Guard Michael Carter-Williams, the effort ensured the Orange upset hometown San Diego State by a score of 62-49 in front of a crowd of veterans, locals, and basketball fans alike.

As far as warship stories go, this one has to be an absolute gem. Mostly because it doesn't involve violence any more intense than a defensive foul and some free throws at the line. Maybe if we settled disputes over a pick up-game of hoops instead of warfare, we wouldn't have the need for these hulking warships in the first place.

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