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Pistons, NBA Academy and Special Olympics share special NBA Cares clinic in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — It was hard to tell who enjoyed themselves the most Tuesday at the Arene de la Ciudad de Mexico: the overjoyed children from the Special Olympics, the picture-taking teenagers from NBA Academy Latin America, or the Detroit Pistons themselves.

All three parties met for an NBA Cares clinic, putting the league’s most human element front and center the day before the 2019 Mexico City Games tip off.

“These are the events that you look forward to the most,” said Pistons forward Blake Griffin.

Instead of hammering home slam dunks, Griffin tapped in the shots that Special Olympics children missed. When a shot went in on its own volition, the Pistons players celebrated like it was a game-winner in April. The NBA Academy prospects did pushups after each make, inciting further smiles and giggles from the kids who loved every minute of the all-too-rare experience.

“It’s not every day they get to see NBA players,” said Andre Drummond. “It’s not every day they get a chance to see any of this. Just to be in a nice facility, shooting basketballs, dribbling and having a great time with their peers.”

One small boy in a wheelchair was thrilled when his turn to shoot came, but not to take a shot himself. Instead he bounced a pass to Blake Griffin, who was quick on the uptake and banked in a short jumper. Happy with his assist, the boy told him “good job” in Spanish.

Derrick Rose was at the other end of the court, sending bounce passes to a young girl who smiled wide at every catch from and throw to the former NBA MVP.

“For me, this is a little more personal,” admitted Drummond. “This touches home for me because I am a global ambassador for Special Olympics. It’s a humbling experience to be out here and just shed some light on these kids and spend some moments with them.”

Earlier that same morning, NBA Academy prospects were floored when they found out they would spend time with the players that serve as the embodiment of their own goals. Esteban Roacho, a 17-year-old from the northern city of Chihuahua, was all smiles after meeting Rose, his favorite player.

“Our dream feels bigger when we’re here with them in the arena,” Roacho said. “I’ve wanted to be in the league since I was a little kid.”

Pistons coach Dwane Casey, who played a preseason game in Mexico during his tenure with the Seattle Supersonics, was all too aware of the impact this week could have on the country’s young fans.

“You may catch one young kid that gets interested in basketball, falls in love with the game because of Blake Griffin, because of one of our players, then we’ve accomplished something.”