Houston, Texas - Feb. 18, 2013 - 12 Special Olympics athletes from across the world showed a standing-room only crowd at NBA Jam Session yesterday afternoon the unifying power of sport as they demonstrated their basketball skills in a Unified Sports game alongside NBA and WNBA players and legends. In a competitive game that came down to the wire, Team West pulled together and came up with a 55-54 win over Team East.
Led by Nick Van Denburgh of Special Olympics Minnesota, Marinela Stefka and Ryan Higgins of Special Olympics Texas, Steven Tookes of Special Olympics Louisiana and international athletes Xue Mao of Special Olympics China and Massimiliano Priolo of Special Olympics Italy - Team West (yellow jerseys) had a great attitude of teamwork as they played alongside teammates NBA legends Dikembe Mutombo and Detlef Schrempf and WNBA players Candice Wiggins and Ruth Riley. West coaches Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets) and Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) were really impressed with their team's performance.
"They were all so passionate," said Faried. "They worked hard and escaped with a one-point win. I'll tell you, it's really surprising but these guys can ball. They absolutely can do what we do every day of our life. Did you see Nick (Van Denburgh) throwing it down? He can dunk!"
The NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports basketball game took place at Jam Session Center Court on Sunday afternoon, prior to the 62nd NBA All-Star Game. Before the game got underway Special Olympics ambassadors Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutumbo joined representatives from Special Olympics Founding Partner The Coca-Cola Company and NBA Cares for a $50,000 donation check presentation. NBA Commissioner David Stern also greeted all of the Special Olympics athletes before Philadelphia 76er and NBA All-Star Jrue Holiday initiated the ceremonial ball tip.
Team East (red jerseys) was coached by Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors) and Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons) and included a roster of Special Olympics athletes Krystle Bailey of North Carolina, Abigail Johnson of Indiana, Michael Reed of New Jersey and international athletes Jose Benitez of Puerto Rico, Jian Gong of China and Morne Reyeke of Namibia with teammates NBA legends Chris Mullin and Ron Harper and WNBA player Nicole Powell and legend Ticha Penicheiro. Special Olympics Puerto Rico athlete Jose Benitez even landed a shot over the towering Dikembe Mutumbo, one of the all-time NBA leaders in blocks.
"What a game," said Mutumbo. "There were so many basketball players on this court better than me! These Special Olympics athletes come from all over the world and no matter their intellectual disabilities they show that we are all unified when we step on a basketball court. We all walk away as winners in this game. We are gold medalists together in life."
Yesterday's game was a Unified Sports experience that gave participants and the public a chance to witness the inclusion fostered when athletes with and without intellectual disabilities get to play together as teammates. Half a million people worldwide take part in Special Olympics Unified Sports competitions, helping to break down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities.
The NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports game at NBA All-Star is another great activation in a long-term global partnership; as the NBA's partnership with Special Olympics began more than 30 years ago when the league helped to introduce basketball as a new sport to the organization.
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