My name is Kerri Gilroy and I am a Special Olympic Athlete in Hyannis, MA. I was chosen as one of 12 athletes to participate in the first ever NBA and Special Olympics Unity basketball game. It was an amazing experience. I am huge fan of sports and play pretty much all sports. However, I would have to say my favorite sport is basketball.
We arrived on Friday and we immediately went out to help build a playground for kids. The individuals who were in charge were very well organized and it ran extremely smoothly. We did not know anyone and they did not know us, but that did not matter one bit! A huge group of people from different backgrounds, groups, areas and abilities all instantly united together to work at accomplishing a single task to help the community, with every person feeling as they were an important part of the team and proud of their particular accomplishments in making it happen.
Saturday we all went to the All-star Jam Session. This is an event where there are many different activities and games, along with areas where NBA players were available to meet with fans. There is also a place at the Jam Session called center court. This is where the NBA players practiced and we got to watch that practice, along with their attempts to break some records! This is also the court we played our game on the next day. After the NBA practice session was over we all headed out and went to have our own practice at a different court at the Jam Session. This was the first time we got to play together and try and figure out how to work as a team. Later that night we went to the Amway Center for the NBA Skills Challenge and we were brought down to the floor level, announced on the stage and put on the jumbotron. The NBA put us in a suite for this event and throughout the night they kept bringing in NBA players, legends and WNBA players to meet us and sign autographs. It was a very fun night!
On Sunday we got ready for our game and headed down to meet everyone. There were so many pictures taken by everyone while we were waiting for the bus to head over to center court for our game. I have never seen so many cameras flashing at one time! Once we got there we were escorted to the locker rooms to get ready for our game. All the NBA players, legends and WNBA players who participated in this event came into the locker rooms and they were all about meeting us. They joked around with us, signed autographs, took pictures with us and even just hung out and talked to us like they would with their own teammates. We then headed out to the court to warm up and then were announced and the game began!
It was a very close game until the last eight minutes when the west took an eight-point lead. We got it down to a three-point lead and then a three-pointer opened up for a Special Olympics teammate of ours who took the shot and made it. Game Tied! The west had one more shot, but it did not go in and the game ended in a tie! If you ask me, it was kind of fitting for the first Unity game with the NBA to end in a tie. After the game was over we headed down to the basketball clinic which other Special Olympics athletes. A lot of young kids participated with some of our Unity team, NBA players, legends and WNBA players. It was great because you could see the excitement and determination in those young kids’ eyes while they were participating in the clinic. Later that night was the NBA All-star game and once again we were in a suite for the game and they hosted to us while bring in more players and legends to meet us.
My favorite part was playing in the Unity game with all the NBA players, legends and WNBA players. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be a part of the NBA All-star weekend, no less get a chance to play with some of them in an actual game. The fact that it had to do with Special Olympics meant a great deal to me because Special Olympics has been such a huge part of my life and has given me so much. It meant a lot that I was chosen to be one of 12 athletes to represent this great and important non-profit organization, as well as my local area.
I will always remember how nice the NBA players, legends and WNBA players who participated in the Unity game were and how they treated us like they would treat their own teammates. You can tell a lot about people from what their original reaction when they first meet you. All the players who played in the Unity game realize that while basketball is what they do, there are much more important things in life than basketball. They truly grasped the meaning behind the Unity games. Most of all, you can tell that they are the type of people who put others first and really care about being good role models. I will also remember the basketball clinic and the looks and determination of those Special Olympic athletes, young kids who participated in the event. The look and pride on their faces when they accomplished each task was amazing and it was so nice to see some of the older kids cheer for the younger ones. They were all so proud of themselves and they had every right to be!
I hope this event continues with the NBA in the future and many more Special Olympic athletes get to participate. I hope they can feel the pride of representing Special Olympics on that stage and they also get to feel as welcome and important as the individuals at this year’s event made us feel. I just kept thinking, through this whole experience, wouldn’t it be nice if the unity, respect, togetherness, acceptance, teamwork and just overall niceness of everyone at this event could be the way it worked in the world today.