John Wall, Point Guard, for the NBA Washington Wizards passes me the ball during a free attempt during the game.
Earlier this week the NBA’s Washington Wizards hosted a Special Olympics Unified Sports basketball game, bringing together Special Olympics athletes (people with intellectual disabilities) and Unified Partners (people without intellectual disabilities) playing as teammates from all over Washington, D.C. to promote the fifth annual global awareness day supporting the ‘Spread the to End the Word’ campaign (www.r-word.org). The game helped demonstrate the need to replace the “R-word” with another word, respect!
As a Unified Partner who participated in the game, it felt like playing in a NCAA Final Four match-up. The game’s intensity came to a head during the final minutes of the game. Players began playing lock-down defense, soaring for rebounds and diving after loose balls. My team was down by one point with a minute left in the game. The opposing team committed a foul, sending my teammate to the free throw line with a chance to take the lead. Suddenly, I can hear people the background yelling “REBOUND” in an effort to throw off my teammate’s concentration. The ball goes up and I can see it’s going to come off the rim. I clear out my defender, jump for the rebound and come down with the basketball. Everything seems to be in slow motion -- I dribble back to the 3-point line, spot up to shoot and Brandon Perkins, a 7-foot tall Special Olympics athlete, runs towards me with every intention of plastering my shot against the wall. I shoot the ball, just missing his outreached finger tips…Swishhhh! The team goes wild! My shot puts us up by two and then we hang on as the clock expires and we win the game by one point!
Now you would think that this would be my most memorable moment of this whole experience, but in fact it wasn’t.
After the game was over the Wizards were kind enough to give each of us an autographed basketball. That wasn't the most memorable moment either – after all the photos were taken, Washington Wizard forward #31, Chris Singleton, who was our coach during the game, comes over to our bench with another basketball and a Sharpie in hand. He asks each of our Special Olympics athletes to sign his basketball! This simple but courageous act shows the transformative power of Special Olympics and how easily perceptions can be changed by giving people the opportunity to include and accept one another.
About Rafael Pacheco: I am the e-Communications Product Manager for Special Olympics Headquarters.