NBA and WNBA connections at inaugural Junior NBA World Championship

After months of regional competitions across the country and around the world, the field is set for the Jr. NBA World Championship – a first-of-its-kind global youth basketball tournament. On Thursday, the NBA announced the rosters for the 32 teams of 13- and 14-year old boys and girls that will compete from Aug. 7-12 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.

From the day the event was first announced back in December, through the regional competitions during the spring and summer, and culminating in the championship tournament in August, NBA and WNBA players and legends have been involved every step of the way.

It began with Dwyane Wade and Candace Parker helping announce the first-ever event as Jr. NBA World Championship global ambassadors. The two All-Stars are both parents to young children and understand the importance of competition and the life lessons that can be learned though the Jr. NBA’s core values of teamwork, respect, determination and community.

It continued at various regional competitions across the U.S., which featured life skills sessions led by players such as Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie and former NBA and WNBA players including Cherokee Parks, Sam Perkins, Derrick Coleman, Tamika Catchings and Alvin Williams with the goal of educating the youth both on and off the court.

When the 317 boys and girls from 35 countries arrive in Florida next month for the Jr. NBA World Championship, they will be joined NBA All-Stars and legends such as Wade, Andre Drummond, Vince Carter, Brook Lopez and Grant Hill as well as WNBA legends including Catchings, Swin Cash and Jennifer Azzi.

The NBA and WNBA talent will not only be heavily involved with the events leading up to the competition, some will be directly involved once the games tip off.

Lopez, who lives in Orlando during the NBA offseason, visited India for the Jr. NBA World Championship India regional in May, and has invited the boys and girls teams representing India to his home in Orlando for lunch prior to the start of the Jr. NBA World Championship. Drummond and Azzi will welcome all the teams at the tip-off ceremony on Aug. 5 and then participate in the celebratory parade at Magic Kingdom Park.

Magic forward Jonathan Isaac will meet the 13- and 14-year-olds at a health and wellness session through the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, where Gatorade will help educate the participants on hydration measures and provide custom fueling recommendations for each athlete.

The NBA and WNBA players will also be part of the life skills sessions that are part of the event’s Developing the Total Athlete Series as well as the Jr. NBA World Championship Day of Service, where the group will collectively build a new playground for community youth at the nearby Oak Street Park.

However, the connections between the NBA and WNBA and the Jr. NBA World Championships are not limited to off-the-court activities.

This WNBA season, the Phoenix Mercury and Dallas Wings have met three times with Diana Taurasi’s Mercury winning the season series 2-1 over Skylar Diggins-Smith’s Wings. While these two teams may meet again in the WNBA Playoffs, the youth team each is affiliated with will meet at the Jr. NBA World Championship.

Taurasi’s youth team – the California Storm – qualified for the tournament and will compete as the West Regional’s girls team. The Storm is coached by George Quintero, who coached the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer when she was growing up in Chino, Calif. Diggins-Smith’s youth team – Sky Diggs Soldiers – qualified as the Midwest Regional girls team and are coached by Skylar’s stepfather Moe Smith.

Over the past four years, LeBron James and Draymond Green have met in the NBA Finals, with Green’s Golden State Warriors holding a 3-1 lead in championships over LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers. With James moving to the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, a fifth straight Finals meeting will not happen, but that doesn’t stop these two players from being intertwined.

During the Midwest Regionals, the team that Green played for while growing up in Saginaw, Mich. (The Family) knocked off LeBron James Jr.’s team (North Coast Blue Chips) in order to represent as Midwest boys team at the Jr. NBA World Championship. And if that wasn’t enough, a standout player from The Family, Ty Rodgers, is the nephew of Jason Richardson, who played the majority of his NBA career with Golden State and, like Green, played at Michigan State University.

In addition to Green’s The Family, NBA free agent Shelvin Mack’s AAU Team – TSF Mack 2022 – qualified as the Southeast Region boys team.

On the international side of the competition, reigning Kia NBA Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons represented the Bulleen Boomers in the 2008 Australian Under-14 Championships. Now the Boomers will represent the Asia Pacific region girls team at the Jr. NBA World Championship.

While the Jr. NBA World Championship offers a glimpse at the bright future of the game, the ties to current and former NBA and WNBA stars exemplifies the long-lasting bonds and relationships that the game offers.