On Friday, February 14, 2020, as part of the NBA All-Star 2020, 12 Special Olympics athletes from around the world, including one from Illinois, joined NBA and WNBA players and legends for the ninth annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball Game.
The Unified Game took place ahead of the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, presented by Ruffles at Wintrust Arena. NBA and WBA players included Nikola Jokic, NBA All-Star (Home coach); Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Star (Away coach); A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces Forward; Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles Sparks Guard; Cheyenne Parker, Chicago Sky Forward; Horace Grant, Chicago Bulls Legend; Toni Kukoč, Chicago Bulls Legend; Dikembe Mutombo, Hall of Famer and Special Olympics Global Ambassador; Muggsy Bogues, NBA Legend; Jameer Nelson, NBA Legend; and Cappie Pondexter, WNBA Legend.
The Ray Graham Training Center High School Drumline gave a lively performance while the announcer introduced the players. Each team featured athletes with and without intellectual disabilities who played alongside professional basketball players to demonstrate inclusion and acceptance.
The superstars from the Special Olympics came to win. They held their own on the court while playing with and against the NBA and WNBA athletes. One player, in particular, who made moves and scored big, was Christopher Carter from Virginia. Carter is a graduate of George Mason University’s LIFE (Learning Into Future Environments) Program, which provides an inclusive university experience with a focus on opportunity and access to prepare intellectually challenged students for independent living.
The game was a light-hearted and amusing display as the players interacted with the referees, the press, and themselves. During a break, the Mascot Inflatables entertained the crowd with hilarious dance moves and acrobatics on the floor.
In an on-court interview, NBA All-Star coach Nikola Jokic, whose Home team won the game in a narrow victory with a score of 44-43, stated, “I just like to be here to see the smiles on the athlete’s faces and to be able to teach them something and enjoy the moment.”
During the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game that took place afterward, Special Olympics International received a $4,000 donation, with a minimum donation of $40,000, for every four-point shot made from behind the Ruffles Four-Point Ridge Line.
The Special Olympics Game demonstrates the ability to defy stereotypes and perceived limitations. That is a lesson for us all.
To learn more about NBA Cares, go to https://cares.nba.com/. For information on the Special Olympics at https://www.specialolympics.org/.