Special Olympics athletes from around the world took on these NBA/WNBA players NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game was some fun-filled competition

For many athletes on the hardwood, clear and concise instructional basketball is key to the fundamentals of the game. And it’s no different for Special Olympic athletes who participate in unified sports.

On Saturday, 12 of these players from all over the world revealed their talents in front of fans at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game in Los Angeles. As part of the NBA’s All-Star community efforts, and joined by NBA and WNBA players and legends, the athletes were divided into two teams (orange and blue) made up of individuals with or without intellectual disabilities.

Showcasing the unifying power of sports since the first game held during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game creates a diverse and inclusive environment. For more than 40 years, the NBA and Special Olympics have partnered to bring basketball to Special Olympics athletes and events across the globe.

NBA All-Star and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Andre Drummond, Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Lakers guard Larry Nance Jr., Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson and legends Dikembe Mutombo and Felipe Lopez participated in a basketball clinic, which took place before the game, and some even played in the game.

Drummond recently shared his struggles in school with bullying and why his support of Special Olympics is so meaningful, in an NBA film.

More than 1.2 million people worldwide take part in Special Olympics Unified Sports competitions.

Team member George Wanjiku of Kenya finished the game with six points. The 6-foot-8 center played on Saturday’s Orange Team and was the highest scorer in the 25-point team finish. The final score was 33-25, won by the Blue Team. Wanjiku was disappointed by the loss but ecstatic, saying the day was one of the “best days of his life.”

George Wanjiku finished the game with six points at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on Feb. 17 during NBA All-Star Weekend.

NBA Cares

Translated by his coach James Okwiri, Wanjiku said he saw other athletes coming to play basketball and he got interested in playing basketball because of his height and new opportunities outside of his other favorite sport.

Wanjiku is an only child who lost both of his parents at the age of 10. He was raised by his grandmother, and he saved enough money to build a home for her after working at a construction company. Playing with Special Olympics for only four years, Wanjiku enjoys watching movies, traveling and meeting new people. In 2015, he participated in the World Summer Games in Los Angeles and since then, he has gained a lot of respect and admiration in his community.

Okwiri is looking forward to coaching Wanjiku more this year.

About 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way. ESPN has served as the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2013, supporting the growth and expansion of this program that empowers individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage through the power of sports.

Special Olympics athlete Jasmine Taylor finished with four points. The Florida native is a huge fan of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.

“It was good game,” she said. “I had fun playing.”

Jasmine Taylor (right) played in the 2018 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on Feb. 17 during the 2018 NBA All-Star Game.

NBA Cares

Phillipo Howery finished with four points and appreciated playing alongside one of his favorite players, Mutombo.

NBA Special Olympic athlete Phillipo Howery (left) spends time with his favorite NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo one day before playing alongside him at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on Feb. 17.

“It was pretty hard and crazy, but it was fun,” Howery said.

Howery is from one of the most inclusive high schools in the Arizona, if not all of the U.S. He will compete in the upcoming 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle from July 1-6.

Special Olympics coach Annette Lynch said the athletes were prepared.

“We’re only volunteer coaches. We can only come and volunteer over the weekend. So he only trains once a week,” Okwiri said. “It’s a high-performance situation. In Special Olympics, not always do the high-performing athletes become selected. I could not be more proud of them …”

The players were selected based on an application process, which included video interview submissions that included personal game highlights.

Lynch joined the Special Olympics in 1989.

“I was the first full-time woman in the sports department,” she said. “My background is certainly teaching and coaching, from junior high all the way up through Division I athletics. And I also had a three-year stint as a player on the U.S. team back in the ’60s. I brought together the player aspect, the teacher aspect, and the coaching aspect, and looking to professionalize what these athletes would get and certainly deserve. They deserve the best in coaching.

“Our goal was to showcase their skills, so that people would see what our athletes are capable of. Because they don’t, they many times speculate or they think they know, but they don’t know. We have such a range of ability level, from the superhigh level.”

According to its website, the Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, allowing practices and games to diversify and become more fun than challenging.

Maya Moore: A Pioneering Spirit The Lynx forward is as fearless and captivating off the court as she is on it

Dear Black Athlete,

Don’t ever forget that you are a citizen—a part of a community

With being an athlete there comes privilege and responsibility—mainly the responsibility to never stop seeking to understand your fellow citizen and neighbor—more importantly, the ones who aren’t exactly like you.

This has been my journey as I’ve stepped into the world of mass incarceration in America and how this phenomenon has unfairly impacted black and brown men and families.

I’ve witnessed double standards and unchecked power in our home of the United States and I’m moved to act.

The American dream of freedom for all of its diverse citizens can only work if we, the people, work it! And as athletes, we know the process to achieving goals better than most.

Don’t be afraid to use your voice to challenge our elected leaders to rise.

But let us also remind ourselves to rise as we step outside of our comfort zone to see people. Really see them.

Be genuine, be thoughtful, be selfless and watch the momentum build as others join in.

We shouldn’t bash or shame women or women of color for talking about their struggles and weaknesses. Because that’s being real. That’s being human.


Jemele Hill sat down with the WNBA star to talk about why she cares so much about doing the right thing.

Jemele Hill: You’ve won championships on every continent but three, is that right?
Maya Moore: Yes, unfortunately.

That’s a nice not so humblebrag. [Laughs] You have four WNBA titles in seven seasons with the Lynx, obviously two college championships. You’ve been to the White House 50 times. [Laughs]
Something like that.

How do you think your success would be viewed if you were a man?
Hmm, if I was—wow. Goodness, I haven’t thought—

Serena Williams, for example, said that if she were a man she’d already be considered the greatest athlete ever.
Our society is still catching up to valuing what we do as females on the athletic field in a way that has as much respect and visibility as what the men have been doing for years. You think about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and some of those pioneers that are allowing LeBron and Steph and Kevin to do the things they’re doing now. So I’m not really ashamed of where I’m at in the history of women’s sports. Years from now, another young woman in my position doing what I’m doing is going to get that type of attention and respect.

You’ve chosen to use your platform and get involved in issues that are kind of tricky and thorny. In July 2016, you, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson chose to have a press conference to discuss the very serious issue of police brutality. What made you decide that was the moment?
It was a hard summer, 2016. We were really hurting in that moment when it was happening in our backyard of Minneapolis; the backyard of Seimone Augustus, who’s from Louisiana, and even the killing of the police down in Texas. It was all happening at the same time. So we just felt like we need to be more humans than athletes right now and to say something.

What was the backlash like?
The backlash wasn’t too crazy. We really tried to be thoughtful about respecting police. But we need everyone to rise. We need our leaders to continue to rise to end what seems preventable.

What was interesting was that Lindsay Whalen was involved. And for people who don’t know, she’s white. [Laughs]
Yes, on some days.

We don’t see a lot of white athletes who are visible when it comes to speaking out about racial issues and certainly not for something like police violence. In your locker room, what are the conversations about race like?
Lindsay loves her teammates. She has relationships with her teammates and attempts to know them. But she’s also a person who is ride or die. She’s down for her people and her family and her teammates.

Not just her, but Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart. There seems to be a different sense of solidarity between white and black athletes in the WNBA. We know you guys don’t make as much as male athletes, so in some respects you have even more to lose because you don’t have as much. So why do you think that level of fearlessness seems to exist among you?
I think there’s a pioneering, fighting kind of a spirit in the female athlete because, you know, we haven’t been raised on “All I have to do is play my sport and I’m going to have everything I want.” We’ve had to do extra and go above and beyond. And I think that builds a certain character in female athletes that gets shown in the best way when it comes to these social justice issues. It’s a natural extension of our experience, fighting for those eyeballs, for views, for attention. It’s the same thing; we’ve seen that cycle. We’ve seen the rhythm of the fight. I think the heart of the female athlete is so huge.

Lindsay Whalen #13, Maya Moore #23, Rebekkah Brunson #32, and Seimone Augustus #33 of the Minnesota Lynx attend a press conference before the game against the Dallas Wings on July 9, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Did it ever cross your mind what you could potentially lose by doing this, be it sponsors, be it fans?
Sure.

And still you proceeded.
I think it was just more about being thoughtful and being honest. That was part of the reason we didn’t have as much fear, because we were just being honest and kind of raw about being a citizen of the United States at that moment.

But we’re in a league that is trying to gain momentum. And so any time you say something that can be controversial, you’re risking losing fans. You’re risking even moving your league back. But at the end of the day, I think that fearlessness is why people love us.

For you, it didn’t just stop at the press conference. You have chosen criminal justice reform and prosecutorial misconduct as the issues that have some meaning for you. Why is that?
About 10 years ago, my extended family that I grew up with in Missouri introduced me to a man who had been wrongfully convicted. And that was kind of the first time I had really thought about prison or people in prison, our prison system. His name is Jonathan Irons. And I was just outraged. I said how in the world does this 16-year-old get this sentencing without any physical evidence? I stepped outside of my middle-class comfort zone that I was raised in to really think, “Oh, if I didn’t have my mom, if I didn’t have my family, if I was a young black man at this time growing up without a lot of money and resources, what would my life be like?”

There seems to be a social and political awakening among a lot of athletes these days. Where do you think that’s coming from?
I really think some of it has to do with exposure, because we have so much access to information. And you’re seeing more athletes understand as they’ve gotten older, maybe, “I was one decision, one family away from being that person. And I’m really not that much different than this person over here, and I need to say something. I need to do something. I have been blessed with so much. I have a platform. I have a voice. I have financial means.” It’s contagious when one person decides to speak up for someone that doesn’t have a voice. I think attacking some of the structural, systematic things in our justice system is the next level of all this momentum.

With all these conversations, do you feel enough attention is being paid to the specific, unique issues that black women face? Because we have the double burden, right? We have race on one side. We have gender on the other. And sometimes those intertwine. I often make the joke that on any given day I’m either told to go write for Cosmo or go back to Africa.
Yes, there’s always going to be a need to equip and empower black women. And I’m so grateful to be standing on the shoulders of so many strong black women who have come before. And some in my family. And I just couldn’t imagine what growing up would be like if I didn’t have them to look to. And the more you see a young black girl get an opportunity, you can see neighborhoods change when you equip and empower young black women.

Obviously with black women, the No. 1 word that comes to mind is strength,
but do you feel like we’re allowed to be vulnerable at all?

That’s a great point, because it’s hard. We have this uncomfortable tension with strength and vulnerability. And we shouldn’t bash or shame women or women of color for talking about their struggles and weaknesses. Because that’s being real. That’s being human.

Maya Moore #23 of the Minnesota Lynx makes a layup in Game One of the 2017 WNBA finals.

Andy King/Getty Images

Is living overseas as a black woman kind of isolating?
Sure. [Laughs] You don’t think about some of the basic things, whether that’s, you know, I’ve got to make sure my hair’s done before I go overseas because it’s going to be three, four months before I’m going to have the hair care I need. Even facial products or just certain foods or conversation you have where there’s kind of that understanding of where you’ve been, where you’re from. At the same time, I love getting to learn and dive into other cultures and finding those connections with other people, with other women.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard this from some fans: They just want Maya Moore to stick to sports. What’s your response to people who maybe don’t want to see you in this other lane?
Surprisingly, and I don’t know if it’s just me because I don’t listen to a lot of people [laughs] outside of the people I’m intentionally trying to be around, but I’ve heard more and more people say, “Maya, thank you. You’re giving us a voice. Like, we need this more.” I’m a person, I’m a citizen and an athlete.

Do you feel as if black athletes should bear a special burden? I hate to use the word “burden,” but “responsibility”? Do black athletes have an increased responsibility to use their platforms to speak out on issues that impact their community?
It shouldn’t be that way that more of the responsibility is on the black athlete, but it’s just part of how it is. Because our ancestors, our family members, our communities have had to deal with hardships and oppression. I feel that responsibility. The more I learn, the more I look back and the more I look around.

How do you want to be remembered as a person?
I just always like to take advantage of opportunities I have to cast life-giving visions. I think that is something I’ve been the beneficiary of with great coaches like Geno Auriemma and Cheryl Reeve on the Lynx right now. You need people to give you beautiful visions to run after. I get opportunities because of my platform to paint visions of “This is how good we can be.” That’s really what’s exciting me now and is going to last throughout my career.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Jennifer James turns setbacks into success with plus-size activewear line Active Ego The brand was featured in New York Fashion Week and offers options for the WNBA Dallas Wing’s plus-size fans

When Jennifer James founded the plus-size activewear brand Active Ego, she didn’t know the brand’s continued success would take her all the way to New York Fashion Week and become part of the Dallas Wings. But through dedication, hard work and an unrelenting devotion, it’s reached masses beyond her farthest dreams.

After having her first child in 2013, the Dallas native went into full gym mode to lose her baby weight and noticed a lack of fashionable activewear for plus-size women. James had no formal training or experience in the apparel industry, but she decided to start designing and creating her own durable fashion-forward pieces as a hobby, and the Active Ego brand was born.

In 2016, James was downsized. She worked in the IT business as a business analyst as well as a project manager, implementing electronic health record systems for hospitals and insurance companies.

“I did that, I would say, for a good five to six years before I realized that that just wasn’t a passion of mine,” James said. “So, it wasn’t long after I had my daughter I decided to jump out of the business and pursue the brand.”

The “mompreneur’s” primary mission with Active Ego is to “empower today’s woman to embrace an active and healthy lifestyle, while looking and feeling phenomenal in stylishly flattering apparel.” Since James launched the brand, her line has been showcased at New York Fashion Week, partnered with Neiman Marcus Last Call as its only plus-size activewear brand, and has partnered with the Dallas Wings for the first plus-size WNBA fan apparel collection.


What was your inspiration for starting the brand?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I gained quite a bit of weight. And, I just really wanted to be able to work out and feel great in just activewear, athleisure wear that I felt like was empowering, that was full of color, full of personality. And, when you’re considered plus-size, which is typically a 12 or anything above, your options are very limited. What inspired me is the fact that, here I am, I didn’t feel like I was old. I was still young, and I just wanted to feel that way when I was working out, and didn’t want to have boring colors, such as the whites, a lot of the sports bras are white, gray and black, and just really dull and lifeless. I just really thought that there was really nothing out there in the markets, or any brands dedicated to this underserved margin of women, and so I just kind of stepped out there and did my own thing.

How did you start the process?

I pumped into high gear with just designing and of figuring out different fabrics and things that I felt would look great, even at the size I was, so I could enjoy my fitness experience a lot better. I work with a manufacturing company in Los Angeles to do a lot of my sewing for the different styles that we have. Our designers and everything are in-house here [Dallas], but depending on the number of units, we definitely work with the company in Los Angeles to do all of the sewing and mailing out of the styles.

How many people are part of the Active Ego team?

We have a team of seven here locally, and then of course our production team ranges anywhere between 10 to 15 people.

How many hours are you personally dedicating to the daily operations?

Oh, my gosh! All the hours. It feels like. But, honestly, when you’re going on this whole entrepreneurship journey, most people think you have a product, it’s going to sell a million dollars, put in two years and that’s it. People really don’t like to sit in the process, because it’s long, nothing’s guaranteed, and it’s lots of hours. I just couldn’t even imagine how many hours, so I would tell you that it’s a balance. And, I’m a wife, I’m a mom, and I’m an entrepreneur. So, between that you don’t really have a set amount of hours. There’s been some days where I’m working 16 to 18 hours, and then there’s some where I work a little lighter, eight to 10 hours. It just depends on what needs to get done and just kind of how strong your team is.

How do you balance being an entrepreneur, a mother and a wife?

I don’t think there’s a balance. No one ever told me that. To be honest, it’s all about how flexible you are, it’s not really about balance, I feel, in a lot of areas. When I’m working on my brand, or dealing with the children, I may be missing out on time with my husband, or vice versa. I just have to try not to fail too much in the same area, that’s kind of how I look at it. But, I’m human. I think that balancing is just overrated. You just kind of have to prioritize some things, and you have to sacrifice some things and sometimes you have to be a little selfish. It really is hard when people say balancing, it’s something you have to just know how to switch gears and be flexible, I would say.

How would you describe your method of switching gears and staying flexible?

I sacrifice a lot of sleep in order to get everything done, typically. I make sure that I stay organized, I have a schedule. I call it the ‘Discipline Schedule,’ where I’m just kind of every hour of the day I’m just kind of doing something, gearing towards the goal for the day. Or, if I have to-do lists, like anybody else, that I’m OK not getting through the list for the day, or even some of the time for a week, or even carrying some things over. I make it a point to be mentally, physically, and spiritually in shape.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey thus far?

When you feel like you’re the only person that kind of sees this vision, you’re trying to convince everyone else to kind of get on board, whether that’s people that you’re hiring. I think just believing in what you’re doing is very important to me. I think the hardest part has been, not making the samples, not making the material, but really just getting the message out there, especially with me being in the plus-size world for women. A lot of women do not identify themselves as plus-size, even if they know that they’re plus-size. It’s almost like this category you don’t want to be in. But, what they don’t realize is that’s the norm these days. I question what plus-size really is. So, I think the hardest part for me, but the most enjoyable, is just being able to provide tangible options for these plus-size women, that they feel empowered in, that they feel great in, that they don’t feel ashamed of wearing, and, that actually provide them a secure fit, and a different mindset in a way of thinking.

How did you get to New York Fashion Week?

I believe it was God’s timing. I was let go of the project that I was working on the end of July, and I remember feeling just kind of like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. At the time I had been doing Active Ego just kind of as a hobby on the side for about a year at that time. So, me being let of the project only gave me the opportunity to be 100 percent at what I was doing. And, I felt like I was ready at the time.

I will never forget, I was sitting in Chick-Fil-A, and I was working and eating, and I received an email from Curvy Magazine. And, it had mentioned that they had been following my social media accounts, and they wanted to see if I was open to participating in the New York Fashion Week last year, and to see if I would mind showcasing a few of my items. Well, at this time it was so funny because I wasn’t even at a 100 percent having inventory, so of course I had samples and I had items, but I wasn’t a full functioning machine.

The theme of the show was ‘Body Image,’ so it just worked well with everything. And, so from then on, I think about eight weeks later, I flew up to New York. I was able to showcase my items, speak about my brand, actually, and things have been moving really fast ever since.

Who has been your biggest cheerleader throughout the process?

Let me start by saying, I do have a lot of cheerleaders. There’s been days that I just want to pull my hair out. But, I would say my husband has been my biggest encourager. He’s an entrepreneur himself, and for him to be able to relate and for me being able to talk to him about certain things. Even when I’m feeling down, or things are going great, he really just keeps me humble and keeps things in perspective.

What future goals do you have?

Wow. I have so many I’m trying to tackle at once. But, I will say that just some of the things we have coming up and future goals, just with the brand I want to be just a nationwide brand that’s dedicated to customer service and great styles and great fit, to be honest with you. I want to be the partner of choice for these plus-size, curvy women’s activewear and athleisure wear. I definitely feel like having a brand dedicated specifically to that category of clothing would be amazing.