On February 26th, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Special Olympics held the first-ever NBA Cares Special Olympics Unity Sports Basketball Game as part of the 2012 NBA All-Star weekend. Twelve Special Olympics athletes, including Wisconsin’s Rickie Kelly, played alongside NBA and WNBA players in an exciting game to show support and foster an environment of acceptance.
The game was a true show of athleticism and sportsmanship by Special Olympics athletes and NBA and WNBA legends. With just 40 seconds left in the game, Special Olympics athlete Andre Larry of the East team made a three-point shot, tying up the game at 57. With great effort by both teams, the game ended 57 all. When asked about the game, Kelly spoke as a committed athlete, saying “competing in this game just makes me want to work even harder.”
Annie McGinnity, Agency Manager for Special Olympics Wisconsin and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Adaptive Athletics Assistant Recreation Supervisor, attended the event and was amazed by the impact of both professional and Special Olympics athletes.
“It was clear that the professional players embraced the idea behind Unified sports and truly enjoyed themselves. Our athletes had the time of their lives playing with legends they’ve admired for years in front of a sizeable crowd of people there to cheer them on,” she said. “After the game, spectators were not only asking the NBA players for their autographs, but our Special Olympics athletes as well.”
Some of the additional weekend festivities that Kelly and the other athletes were able to enjoy included touring and practicing in the Jam Session, watching the All-Star Competition, and getting to know some of the professional athletes like Lindsey Harding, Derek Williams, and Kemba Walker. Kelly is a true leader both on and off the court and takes his involvement in Special Olympics seriously.
“He does what he can to not only recruit his friends to play, but also help them understand the importance of committing to a team or sport and seeing a season through,” said McGinnity, who has worked with Kelly for seven years coordinating the Milwaukee summer and school year programs he has participated.
The NBA Cares Special Olympics Unity Basketball Game left lasting impressions on both McGinnity and Kelly.
“It meant everything to get an experience like that. Its number one in my book,” concluded Kelly.
Next up for Kelly is to enroll at Madison Area Technical College, where he hopes to try out for the basketball team. He plans to continue volunteering for Special Olympics where he enjoys working with younger kids, teaching them all that he has learned about becoming part of a team.