The NBA and Autism

Me and NBA Legend Dikembe Mutumbo at Autism Speaks, "Tip Off For a Cure" Event

*Yesterday, the National Basketball Association reached a tentative agreement which will allow them to begin playing basketball on Christmas Day. As a huge basketball supporter, this news was the highlight of my day. It also brought back a lot of great memories I’ve had about the NBA. Last year I had the opportunity to go to The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies where I got to interview and meet several NBA Legends such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Oscar Robertson, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. 

It also reminded me of one of my first ever blog posts I’ve written. It was at an event called “Tip Off For a Cure” which was an event sponsored through Autism Speaks to raise money for their organization. I had the opportunity to do a guest blog for them and because of yesterday’s news I wanted to share it with all of you. Hope you enjoy!*

 

Autism and basketball have successfully been linked in the news before.  An example, three years ago, was when the entire world was introduced to a high school water-boy, turned ESPY Winner, Jason Mcelwain.

And on Wednesday, April 14, Autism Speaks got into the action as they hosted an event called “Tip Off for a Cure” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s spectacular Temple of Dendur.  The Temple, bathed in blue lights for the evening, (in keeping with the  Autism Speaks Light it Up Blue  campaign theme)  served as the background for a  fundraising dinner gala  benefiting  Autism Speaks & The Gillen Brewer School of New York City. The prior year‘s event, called “Kick Off for a Cure” was retooled with a NBA theme. This year, with major sponsorship from the National Basketball Association foundation “NBA Cares,” the event was chaired by NBA Commissioner David Stern.  Commissioner Stern spoke and brought many members of the NBA family.

This star-studded event, filled with many NBA Legends such as Dikembe Mutumbo, Earl Monroe, Bob Lanier Jr., Gail Goodrich, John Starks, Albert King, Darryl Dawkins and Butch Beard was highlighted by the presence of one of the special honorees of the night, former NY Knicks, NBA player turned US Senator from New Jersey, Bill Bradley. I was privileged to talk to several of the former NBA players about their interest, motivations and participation in the event and the cause.

“Autism is an Issue that needs to be looked into. Every little bit counts,” former NY Nets player Cliff Robinson said, when discussing his reasons for attending “NBA Cares” events. “They asked me to come out and I couldn’t say no.”

Along with the NBA Players, many prominent business figures were in attendance. Present were Vice Chairman & Global Head of Mergers and Acquisitions at Morgan Stanley Robert A. Kindler and President, CEO and Director of Alcoa Klaus Kleinfield.

While basketball and autism were the two dominant themes of the night, hearing some of the main speakers such as Marv Albert, Suzanne and Bob Wright and especially, Taylor Crowe, made the night truly magical. Taylor Crowe, Bill Bradley’s cousin, who is on the autism spectrum, spoke about his life and his struggles growing up on the autism spectrum. Taylor, who confidently walked to the podium when he was asked to speak by David Stern, addressed the audience for 15 minutes about his life experiences. “You are only doomed if you give up”, Taylor said in relation to his struggles with autism during the years.

No one summed it up better than Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright: “Autism is on the run because Autism Speaks is after it.”, she continued “Michael Jordan once said, ‘Obstacles don’t have to stop you.’ If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it and that is exactly what we do at Autism Speaks.”

I had a lot of great discussions with the guests and wanted to post some of these people’s thoughts so you can see the importance of what Autism Speaks is doing.

The only people who are doomed are those who give up” – Taylor Crowe:  28-year-old honoree, who has autism

Autism is an issue that needs to be looked into. Every little bit counts.” – former NJ Nets player Clifford Robinson

Autism is one of those epidemics that is attacking the fabric of our society right now.” – former NY Knicks and Houston Rockets player Dikembe Mutumbo:

I have a daughter, an 11 year old with Downs Syndrome so this is something I really appreciate and can get into. I reap the benefits from functions like this and to see the kids and see how independent they are its awesome, it’s awesome! I don’t know what it is, but these kids have so much more going on that I wish we could see it the way they see it.  This is my first event and I’m enjoying it.” – former Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz player Darryl Dawkins

A friend of mine has a son who has autism, and as far as my connection with the organization I’m here because the NBA gave me a call and its definitely an issue that really needs to be looked at. New York is a great city, and a very charitable city and what a better place to raise money and to raise awareness for autism than to have it in this beautiful museum, it makes it even better.” – former NY Knicks player John Starks.

Everyone shared former Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks player, Bob Lanier Jr.’s enthusiasm when he spoke about how excited he was to be at the event: “Well, I traveled a long way to come here because I believe in the cause. David Stern is chairing this event and has been a difference maker all around the world.  Our great athletes are are here to support a wonderful cause and trying to raise not only  awareness about it, because it is not something a lot of us know about. It affects a lot of boys at a very young age. Trying to figure it all out  – got to raise awareness, raise funds and utilize resources and that is what the NBA does really well. I’ve been doing stuff  all around the world for NBA Cares. By raising awareness and using the resources  of NBA Cares, our  brand and our players, we can help draw attention to these needy causes.”

Felipe Lopez of the Orlando Magic commented: “You can look around and see all the top-notch people that are around.  We have to support it – it is a great cause. I am more than thrilled to be part of this event it as an ambassador for NBA cares. I was informed about a month ago about this event and was very excited to attend.  NBA tries to be in programs to help. We always  have to fight to make other peoples lives better. I think it’s a situation where we have to come together and we make it better.”

Rory Sparrow, former Lakers player said, “Autism is one of the major concerns in my country. Autism is so interesting. This interests me, what causes it and ways to prevent it.”

Former NBA all-star Dikembe Mutombo is no stranger to charitable causes.  He built the $30 million, 300-bed Biamba Maria Mutombo Hospital for children back in his home country of Congo. He said, “Autism is something that is a concern for all of us. For so long no one wanted to talk about it; now this being a big issue in our society. We, as parents, need to learn more. As a global ambassador for NBA Cares, I am speaking about concerns facing our youth. Since so many NBA players have children with autism, it is personal issue for us. We are feeling it at home, not just from the outside. But autism is treatable, especially when it is diagnosed early on.”

In response to the question, ”Do you believe with the help of a group like Autism Speaks fundraising and raising awareness, can there someday be a cure for autism? He responded with a resounding, “Why not! We have to find a cure. 1 in 110 kids are affected. Maybe we can do better if we put our minds and money behind the cause, and we can do it.”

At the end of the night, as icing on the cake, it was announced that the event had raised more than a million dollars. What a great atmosphere and a great success!  One theme dominated the night – The NBA and NBA Cares truly care about the issue of autism and will be with Autism Speaks every step of the way!

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