The 2013 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in London tipped of officially Thursday morning in the shadow of Tower Bridge on the banks of the River Thames with a signature moment: basketball superstars and young Special Olympics athletes sharing smiles and laughs on the court together as part of the One Team corporate social responsibility program of Euroleague Basketball.
The event continued a tradition of utilizing basketball to bring exhilaration and thrills to the hearts of young people under the auspices of One Team, its 15 partner clubs and founding partner Turkish Airlines. It also continued the alliance between Euroleague Basketball and One Team Proud Partner Special Olympics, which has featured Special Olympians on Turkish Airlines Euroleague courts and special programmes across the continent.
Thursday's events brought 8- to 11-year-old students from Snowsfields Primary School in London to become teammates for a day with the One Team Ambassadors of the Final Four teams: Victor Khyrapa of CSKA Moscow, Kyle Hines of Olympiacos Piraeus, Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid, Xavi Rabaseda and Brad Oleson from FC Barcelona Regal. The Special Olympics athletes went through special One Team training before taking their game to a court at The Scoop at More London with the Euroleague stars.
"We are delighted to be involved with One Team," said Mary Davis, Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia. "It is great for Special Olympics, for our athletes, you can see them here today in The Scoop. The excitement, and the joy and the faces. I'm just watching the high-performance basketball players and the way they are interacting with our Special Olympics athletes and it's fantastic. It really is. They are breaking down the skills, and making this so much easier for our athletes to participate and to learn the skills of basketball. So, I have to say I'm very impressed. It's a great relationship that we have between Euroleague One Team and Special Olympics."
On site to greet the participants were dignitaries from Euroleague Basketball, while overseeing the event was One Team head coach, Mike Richardson, who conducted the sessions using the concepts and methodology of One Team. Kimon Saccopoulos, One Team Coach from Olympiacos and Maria Garcia, One Team Manager from Real Madrid also participated in the event.
"I welcome you all and thank you for joining us this morning at what is a unique location, London, to start our first act of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four and be part of a very important event here with our One Team program," Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball's President and CEO, said. "It's important for us to be close to these kids, to help them have a better life and make them happy. To do that, we have this really powerful tool for making a positive difference in their lives: One Team. This activity is one more of the many similar ones we had during the season, thanks to the cooperation of our clubs, with already 15 of them as partners in the program. They have reached more than 1,000 young people during the season with events like this during the season. We are proud of the clubs, the players and the coaches around Europe for their commitment to One Team.
“We must also thank our great partner over the years, Turkish Airlines, the founding partner of One Team, for having launched this program with us two years ago. Finally, we want to express gratitude to the teams and players here in London, and especially the One Team Ambassadors. We understand it's a critical part of the season, the hottest part really, but they are here spending time with the Special Olympics athletes to be closer to them and help them enjoy themselves with basketball. So thanks to them again for joining us today and helping us be close to our communities here and around Europe."
Last but not least were the players themselves, who made teams with the Special Olympics athletes, complete with on-court introductions and high-fives as each and every student was introduced, just like the stars. The One Team ambassadors not only ran drills and contests for the Snowsfields Primary School students, but also held an impromptu press conference, with the young Special Olympics athletes as reporters, asking the questions.
Each of the Final Four stars and One Team ambassadors confessed to feeling privileged to be part of this event to open the weekend's festivities:
"One Team is a great idea. personally, I want to thank the Euroleague for being chosen as my team's ambassador," said Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid. "It is beautiful and completely new to me. I had the chance to meet the kids, get to know them and put a smile on their faces, sharing their passion for basketball. I am always available for the kids. All for us are pleased to help and are here to have a good time."
"This is wonderful," Kyle Hines of Olympiacos Piraeus said. "It gives me a great opportunity to come here, meet the people of our community. This is a great chance for us to spread the One Team message, which is trying to use basketball as a vehicle to provide social change, to let the kids know there are more life lessons that they can learn through the game of basketball."
"It is not the first time that I am involved in this One Team project," Victor Khryapa of CSKA Moscow said. "I like it a lot because it helps the kids to find their way in life. It is not just about basketball but helping the kids to go through their problems and emotions."
"One Team is a great initiative by the Euroleague," said Xavi Rabaseda of FC Barcelona Regal. "I have been able to help and it is great to spend a couple of hours helping One Team, first in Barcelona and now a little bit more. The kids are really excited to be with us, the players, and it is great to put a smile on their faces. It is a pleasure to be here and collaborate - I love kids and spending time with them is great."