Wizards, Mystics come together for 8th annual Special Olympics Unified All-Star Basketball Game
On Monday, Wizards and Mystics players, staff and dancers came together to put on the eighth annual Special Olympics Unified All-Star Basketball Game at Dunbar Senior High School. The Special Olympics All-Star Blue Team, led by Special Olympics coaches Sarah Pike and Ana Lisa Evans, with help from honorary coaches Troy Brown Jr., Moritz Wagner and Ariel Atkins, took on the Special Olympics All-Star Red Team, led by head coaches Madi McKenna and Lindsey Wilkes and honorary coaches Ish Smith, Thomas Bryant and Elena Delle Donne.
The game featured Division 1 athletes from both the DC and VA chapters of the Special Olympics. Both teams were split down the middle and mixed to make for a balanced, All-Star competition. The game served to raise awareness for the Special Olympics and its campaign to “look for the lonely, the isolated, the left out, the challenged, and the bullied to overcome the fear of difference and replace it with the power of inclusion.”
“Just being here and being present is the most important thing,” John Wall said after the event. “These people have special needs and I think they get secluded from some things in life when they shouldn’t. They’re still normal people like we are. People like to give their money and put their name on things and feel like that’s enough. I feel like being present and being interactive with them is the biggest factor. Signing autographs and taking pictures – that’s what they enjoy more.”
The Blue Team led at halftime, but a second half comeback from the Red Team forced overtime. Three consecutive baskets in the final 30 seconds of overtime, including a deep 3-pointer and a fadeaway jumper on the baseline, tied the game at 34-34, which would stand as the final score. The game-ending sequence can be seen in its entirety below:
“It was a fantastic game, a fantastic experience for all our athletes here,” Nicole Preston of Special Olympics DC said. “It means the world to them. They talk about it all year. They look forward to it and they know it’s coming every March. It’s a great opportunity.”
At halftime, just before the teams resumed action, a dance-off broke out between players, coaches, refs and even G-Wiz.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to interact with some of their sports heroes and have the opportunity to play just like they do on the court,” Veronica Jennings of Special Olympics VA said after the game. “Having that personal one-on-one time with the players reffing the game and being on the sidelines with them, encouraging them – they really enjoy that aspect of it.”
“It felt good to come into the game and get all the enthusiasm and have the crowd pumping you up,” said Calvin, who hit the clutch 3-pointer for the Blue Team in overtime. “I was trying to get the fans pumped up. It felt so good. Getting to meet the Wizards players, meeting John Wall for the first time…It’s just such a miracle that I just met all the players. It was so amazing.”
The experience isn’t over yet for participants in Monday’s game. Athletes and volunteers from will be invited and recognized at the Wizards’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, March 15.