It was a back-and-forth affair in today’s Special Olympics Unified basketball game. Team Orange pulled away in the final minute, punctuated by emphatic dunks by international professional basketball player Lorenzo Davis II. Former NBA All-Star Metta World Peace responded with a three-point shot to bring Team Yellow back within three points, but the buzzer sounded shortly after to end the game.
Or, so the players thought.
Everyone involved, from the international group of competitors on the court to the crowded stands at USC’s Galen Center, was not ready for the fun to be over.
Unified Sports, like today’s basketball game, embody the inclusive spirit of the Special Olympics. The game brought together Special Olympics athletes from around the globe with Unified Partners from professional sports, entertainment, and the Special Olympics community.
It was former NFL player and ESPN personality Marcellus Wiley’s first experience with Unified Sports. “It was amazing to see everyone going out there with the intensity, the passion. We got some players!” Wiley said. “We had some guys who, when they touched it, they were in range to shoot it and we had guys playing team ball. It was all fun. I’m glad I was out there.”
Special Olympics athletes showcased their skills. Athletes hit deep three pointers, played hard-nosed defense, and demonstrated fearless physicality around the basket. The professionals were impressed.
For Namibian athlete Otja Muraranganda, today’s game came on a day off between two games for his country’s men’s team. He spent much of the game hounding the ball-handlers for Team Yellow—retired NBA veteran Norm Nixon, in particular. In describing his first experience playing Unified Sports, Muraranganda emphasized the challenge of guarding such tall players. But, he was enjoying every minute. “The game was great!” he said. “It was a lot of fun!”
After the end of the second half, the game continued for another nine, closely contested minutes. Overtime offered a chance for the athletes to take a curtain call and for some new Unified Partners to take the floor. Following loud urging from the fans, Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers even took a turn at point guard during the extra session.
NBA’s Iron Man and Unified basketball veteran A.C. Green summarized his first experience playing in the World Games. “It’s always fun and special. The Olympics aspect of it brings a nice new flavor,” he said. “But, at the same time, it’s the same people. It’s really beautiful to have a chance to play with them, to have fun with them.”