Power of Unified Sports Back in Spotlight at Annual NBA Game

Once again, the power of unity will shine on center court at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game during NBA All-Star weekend.
This year marks the 8th Annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports® Game

It’s time for a Unified Sports game like no other.

Once again, the power of unity will shine on center court at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game during NBA All-Star weekend.

Since 2012, this Unified game has thrilled fans with fast-paced and high-level competition — along with unique and powerful moments. What else would you expect when 12 Special Olympics athletes from around the world test their skills and training against professional players and legends – and teach everyone about sports skills, respect – and having fun?!

Tip off~NBA - Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball Game
The Unified Game pairs an equal number of Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities) and NBA and WNBA players and legends.

This is where you can see NBA great Muggsy Bogues trash-talking his Special Olympics opponents – as they trash-talk him right back! And Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo blocking a key shot by an athlete with intellectual disabilities — and wagging his famous finger in that athlete’s face. (And later hear that athlete -- Armand Acrie of Virginia, USA – telling everyone with a grin, “This was the experience of a lifetime….I will remember this for the rest of my life.”)

Most of all, the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Game changes attitudes about the talents of people with intellectual disabilities -- every single minute of playing time.

“This game proves that Special Olympics is about real sports,” says Olympic gold medalist and basketball star Sam Perkins, a longtime Unified Sports teammate. “This game proves that we should all look up to Special Olympics athletes and aspire to carry their spirit of determination. It should make people want to play Special Olympics Unified Sports and have our athletes as their teammates.”

For this year’s 8th annual game, players include 12 Special Olympics athletes from seven countries (see full list below) taking on current and former NBA and WNBA players, including Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky), Ashley Battle and A’ja Wilson, WNBA legend Swin Cash and NBA legends Horace Grant and Ron Harper. And yes, Muggsy Bogues and Dikembe Mutombo will be there too!

The Special Olympics athletes include four competing in next month’s Special Olympics World Games. These four — Micheal Wright, Canada; Andrew Smilley, Cayman Islands; Mikami Hayato, Japan; and Leanne Woolfe, Great Britain -- will get the pre-World Games training of a lifetime as they compete with the best in their sport.

Last year, Butti Al Sheezawi of the United Arab Emirates took on the pros in and learned “it’s not easy to score in this kind of competition." But, he adds, “With each shot, the cheers of the crowd shook the floor…such an amazing atmosphere! For me, it was one of the greatest experiences ever."

Meet Butti Al Sheezawi

Chidalu Onwunze of Nigeria also played in the NBA Unified Game, then went on to compete at the World Summer Games in Los Angeles. She loved the unifying aspect of the game, but also the serious sports involved. She later brought her WNBA and NBA-influenced moves right back to Team Nigeria for their World Games training. That’s what helped them earn the silver medal in Los Angeles!

Meet Chidalu Onwunze

As Dikembe Mutombo says, “it’s so important to have Unified Sports — because we don’t want anyone in this world to feel they are different. We all are the same, we live in the same world, we all have the same passion and vision. We want all to be united.”

The 2019 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game kicks off at 5 pm ET on Friday, Feb. 15 at Bojangles Coliseum, Charlotte, NC. Watch the live stream coverage on the NBA and NBA Cares Facebook pages.

Special Olympics Athletes

Micheal Wright, Canada*
Andrew Smilley, Cayman Islands*
Janaiya Warren, United States (Florida)
Brendan Connolly, Ireland
Ashley Aldrich, United States (Massachusetts)
Marquise Ledbetter, United States (North Carolina)
Mikami Hayato, Japan*
Micah Gumness, United States (Wisconsin)
Kyle Emery, United States (Colorado)
Sebastijan Abel, Germany
Leanne Woolfe, Great Britain*
Kellie Hearne, United States (North Carolina)

*competing in Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019