Chicago — Nikola Jokić started his 2020 All-Star weekend festivities by serving as a coach for a Unified Special Olympics Game at Wintrust Arena.
What made the event even more special is that Jokić was able to share the court with Nate Wade, the Colorado representative for Special Olympics.
Wade was born and raised in Denver, Colo. and received his diagnosis at age seven. Wade had to overcome a lot throughout his childhood but basketball became his positive outlet once he discovered it.
When Nate isn’t playing basketball, he is working on enrolling at a community college and volunteers at an animal shelter.
Through a representative of Special Olympics Colorado, Wade has said that being involved in Special Olympics and basketball has made him a better person and helped him focus his energy in a healthier way. Special Olympics has helped Nate develop his social skills, teamwork and leadership skills, which he uses on and off the court.
Friday, Wade made his presence felt on the boards as he secured two offensive rebounds and baskets early in the first half. In the second half, Wade impressed the crowd with a crossover into the paint that led to a layup. Wade continued to make an impact with a steal and second-consecutive basket.
Wade’s contributions led the way during his team’s comeback late in the second half. Despite being down 10 points, Wade’s team took the lead in the final minute only to ultimately fall 44-43. Wade finished with eight points and four rebounds in the narrow loss.
Jokić’s presence at the game continued the Nuggets support of Special Olympics. Special Olympics Colorado is a Signature Community Partner of Kroenke Sports Charities, while the Nuggets have all-team basketball skills clinic for Special Olympics Colorado athletes for over 30 years. The Nuggets were the first team in the NBA to show that much support for the program.
Back in December, the Nuggets hosted their 2019-20 Special Olympics Clinic at Pepsi Center, which allowed the team’s players, coaches and other personnel to interact directly with the athletes and help them improve their skills.
“To me, this is my favorite event of the year. I think it’s even more special to have it where we play,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said following December’s event. “It’s rewarding for all these athletes, but even more rewarding for myself, my coaches and our players. To be able to give back, interact with them and make their day, it’s amazing. To give back and have a great event like this, everyone benefits and has fun.”
“It (the Unified Special Olympics game) means everything,” Jokić said during an on-court interview. “I just like to be here to see the smiles on the athlete’s faces and to be able to teach them something and enjoy the moment.”