by Megan O’Donnell – SONC VP of Communications (traveling with Krystle Bailey)
Friday, Feb. 15 -
“Roger Houston”- we have landed! Krystle and I arrived in Houston late Thurs. night and she was pumped to get here! We drove to the Omni hotel with the Special Olympics pair from Italy! It is the Italian athlete’s first trip to America. Needless to say they were very tired from their trip. Krystle loves the Omni hotel! It is decked out in large NBA ALL STAR banners and posters. Pictures of the stars like Dwayne Wade, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul adorn the lobby. Krystle posed with several of the banners this morning after breakfast! (Check the SONC Flickr page). She also picked up an Adidas bag full of NBA All Star giveaways for the Special Olympics athletes. She got a sweatshirt and several great T-shirts. a basketball shooting shirt, a golf shirt, an All Star baseball hat, a NBA All Star pin and a basketball. She definitely wants the pros to sign her basketball on Sunday during the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball Game! What a great keepsake that will be!
At noon we started the NBA All Star weekend experience. We headed to the NBA Cares community service day. The Special Olympics group was taken to the Houston Food Bank. It was a great afternoon. The Food Bank is the largest in the nation and one of the most efficient. We worked as Second Sorters and boxed up canned goods to be distributed. Krystle thought it was a lot of fun and she was very quick at it. It was a lot of work though and after 3 ½ hours of sorting and lifting boxes everyone in the Special Olympics group was worn out. We did our jobs with visits from NBA and WNBA stars throughout the afternoon. The highlight for us was when Krystle met NBA Commissioner David Stern! She also met Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls as well. He was very interested in the Unified Sports Game she told him about.
After the Food Bank, we returned to the hotel for a pizza party and got to know the Special Olympics athletes better. We sat with athlete Jian Gong and his teacher that came from Shanghai, China. They told us their first impression of America is that everyone must own cars. They were amazed that there weren’t tons of shops lining the streets outside the hotel and that no one was around in the mornings. Krystle got to meet her East teammates and they set teamwork as their goal for what they’d like to show people in the Unified Sports Game on Sunday. We headed to the Rising Stars game after dinner and everyone was in a luxury suite. The group had a great time enjoying the game and the snacks. Krystle was rooting not for one team but rather all the “rising stars” that had North Carolina ties! She really liked that they scored so many points. The group also got a surprise visit from retired NBA star John Starks of the NY Knicks. Krystle posed for a photo with him and liked meeting him.
It was a great first day and Krystle really enjoyed seeing Houston and meeting so many new people.
Saturday, Feb. 16
A great breakfast with all the Special Olympics athletes and their chaperones and then we were off to Jam Session. Krystle and the others all tried on their sharp looking uniforms for tomorrow’s game! Krystle is super excited as her uniform number is 30 just like Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Krystle and her family are good friends with the Curry’s. She got a new pair of Adidas basketball shoes too. She will look great for the game! We all had an hour to have fun at Jam Session which is full of interactive games and basketball exhibitions and NBA player appearances. Krystle shot hoops at a pop- a shot booth and scored 30 points in 60 seconds ! We also had our own bobble head image made and then emailed too us. They are pretty funny! Krystle’s was the best as she chose rainbow hair! Then it was time for a team practice. Coach Annette Lynch of Special Olympics Inc. ran a great practice that culminated in a scrimmage. She was quite pleased with the intensity, team work and skills the athletes showed. Krystle was happy as she knocked down a couple of three pointers during practice! Stephen Curry would be proud! Morne Reneke, the athlete from Africa, actually took a spill going after a loose ball just as practice ended and sprained his ankle. He’s hoping some ice and rest will do the trick and he’ll be able to play tomorrow. After lunch at the hotel, Krystle got a visit from her family. Her parents and brother flew in share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with her. She was very happy to see them and filled them in on her adventure thus far.
Coca-Cola held a dinner reception for the Special Olympics athletes and NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo was a surprise guest. Krystle enjoyed meeting him but when she told him she was a Tar Heels fan he looked disappointed since he went to Georgetown. Krystle also had a line in a poem the athletes read to the crowd at the beginning of the program for the evening (click for video of the poem). She did a great job and was nice and loud.
Then the whole group headed to NBA All Star Saturday Night to watch the three-point contest and the much anticipated dunk contest! Everyone had a great time and was very impressed with the dunk finals! The big highlight for all the athletes however was being recognized on center court during a break in the East/West team skills contest. The athletes all appeared on the jumbotron smiling and waving. Krystle’s family was very proud. And she was so happy they were there to see it!
As we left the arena several young basketball fans stopped to high five our athletes and wish them good luck. A lady also passed the athletes and stopped to say good luck in the game on Sunday and that she plans to come and watch! It was so neat–all those fans learned about the team and the Unified Sports Game that night when the group was recognized!
Sunday, Feb. 17
Everyone was tired this morning but a good breakfast gave them all some energy. The group attended a NBA basketball clinic at Jam Session being held for 70 Special Olympics Texas athletes. Krystle and her teammates served as greeters for the event so they wouldn’t get tired out before their big Unified Sports game at 2 p.m.
Everyone was tired this morning but a good breakfast gave them all some energy. The group attended a NBA basketball clinic at Jam Session being held for 70 Special Olympics Texas athletes. Krystle and her teammates served as greeters and assisted with stations for the event so they wouldn’t get tired out before their big Unified Sports game at 3 p.m. Krystle met All Star Russell Westbrook before the game and then assisted at a shooting station that both he and John Starks led.
After a light lunch, the team met several of their professional teammates. The WBNA stars came into the locker room and met each of the athletes. Krystle introduced herself to each of them and gave them a Special Olympics NC pin. She also was able to get them all to sign her 2013 NBA All Star basketball as well! She met Candice Wiggins – Minnesota Lynx guard, Ruth Riley – Chicago Sky center, Nicole Powell – New York Liberty forward and Ticha Penicheiro – WNBA legend. Nicole told her she played her rookie year for the Charlotte Steam and really like Charlotte and was sorry the city lost the team. Nicole and Ticha were both East teammates of Krystle’s.
Then it was game time and the Coca-Cola Polar Bear made an appearance in the locker to room to escort the group down to Center Court in Jam Session. He was so life-like it was eerie. The athletes just loved him and they all posed for a group picture with him. Then off to Center Court it was. The group was paraded through Jam Session and people were cheering and taking photos! We met up with Kyrstle’s parents and she was so happy to see them. They were able to sit right behind her bench and loved being so close to the action! Krystle warmed up with her team and then met her coaches Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons. She also met Jerome Williams a Los Angeles Angles pitcher during the game as he is a good friend of Drummond. During the game Krystle made it a point to sit next to and chat with Harrison Barnes. She was the one person she was most looking forward to meeting all weekend since he is a UNC Tar Heel and she loves the Tar Heels. Her NBA legend teammates were NBA Hall of Famer and two-time Olympic gold medalist retired guard/forward Chris Mullin and retired guard Ron Harper who won a NBA Championship as a LA Laker in 2000!
The atmosphere surrounding the entire game was electrifying! The stands were packed with rowdy fans. There were cheerleaders and entertainment acts during timeouts and halftime. The competition was really good. The two teams kept the score close throughout the game. Krystle did score a basket in the first half and her family was elated! The East team did however surrender their lead in the second half and lost by one 55-54 in the final seconds. Everyone held their head high though, it was a fantastic game. The Special Olympics athletes truly showed they belonged on the same court with the pros and certainly showed those in the stands their impressive skills. After the game, Ron Harper found Krystle and gave her his autographed game jersey! She was so proud! She also found Harrison Barnes and had him sign her jersey and posed for one of several pictures with him during the afternoon. A few more photos of the team and her with her parents on Center Court and then it was time to relax.
The team took a half hour to freshen up and then headed to the NBA All Star game. They enjoyed dinner and the game for their suite. They had a few celebrities visit their suite. The highlight being actor/comedian/rapper Nick Cannon, who emceed All Star Saturday Night and is married to Mariah Carey. Krystle loved watching Blake Griffin dunk and hearing Alicia Keyes perform at halftime. Over all though her favorite part of the weekend was, “it all but meeting all the NBA players and the game too; it was all amazing!” Her parents had never seen her as happy as she was during the Unified Sports Basketball game and thought the entire experience was just great!
Congratulations Krystle Bailey on a Great Performance at NBA All Star 2013!