Team West Wins 55-54 in NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball Game at NBA All-Star 2013

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.

High-resoultion photos of yesterday’s game are available here:

About NBA Cares

NBA Cares is the league's social responsibility program that builds on the NBA's long tradition of addressing important social issues in the United States and around the world.  Through this umbrella program, the NBA, its teams and players have donated than $210 million to charity, completed more than 2.3 million hours of hands-on community service, and created more than 760 places where kids and families can live, learn, or play, in 24 countries and territories on five continents.  NBA Cares works with internationally recognized youth-serving programs that support education, youth and family development, and health-related causes, including: KaBOOM!, Special Olympics, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, UNICEF, Make-A-Wish, Share Our Strength, and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is an international organization that changes lives through the power of sport by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities, promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect worldwide. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than four million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programs. Special Olympics now take place every day, changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities all over the world, from community playgrounds and ball fields in every small neighborhood’s backyard to World Games. Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy and friendship. Visit Special Olympics at Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics;;, and

Media Contacts

Madeline Wehle Crandall, NBA Communications, or (646) 872-8640
Mandy Murphy, Special Olympics, or (202) 824-0227