UEFA football legends Christian Karembeu and Robert Pires met up with Euroleague greats Ramunas Siskauskas and Nikola Vujcic in a celebrity basketball game involving Special Olympics youngsters at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Fan Zone as part of the 2013 London Final Four weekend festivities. The goodwill game, organized by Euroleague’s social responsibility program One Team, took place Friday morning at Trafalgar Square and drew hundreds of enthusiastic on-lookers at the Fan Zone Main Court.
“I’m very proud to be here,” said Karembeu, who along with Pires is part of UEFA Legends, a group of ex-football stars acting as role models for UEFA’s community and social responsibility program. “Sports need this kind of exchange and meetings because we all know that sports has this impact and visibility. It’s good that the initiative was taken by UEFA and Euroleague.”
The game also included past football star Graeme Le Saux while basketball former Euroleague champs Trajan Langdon and Ricky Rubio and one-time Euroleague scoring leader Joe Arlauckas also lined up to share the spotlight with Special Olympics athletes – all of whom have intellectual disabilities. “I’m excited about being here and being able to do some things to give back to the kids and be at the fan zone and support and try to establish Euroleague’s presence in Europe. I’m excited about being part of that,” said Langdon.
The unified game celebrated One Team and the efforts made by Special Olympics, UEFA and Euroleague Basketball to use sport as a tool for positive social change. “It’s such an amazing experience for these children to work with these legends and working with the One Team ambassadors. These are legends and [the kids] will never get this opportunity again. It’s been fantastic,” said Special Olympics Great Britain communications director Maeve Chappell.
“It’s critical that we have UEFA and Special Olympics involved because our main role is working for our communities. Our goal is to give back to society,” said Euroleague Basketball President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu. “And this is something that our players and our clubs understood pretty well. And now to have this partnership with UEFA we are taking another step to another level. It’s really brilliant”
The event tipped off with a ceremonial jumpball with Bertemeu tossing the ball up to Arlauckas and Le Saux. All the athletes did their best to make the children the center of the game’s attention, from eye-popping passes that Langdon and Rubio delivered, to Vujcic connecting with a youngster for an alley-oop and Arlauckas tipping all the rebounds to his younger teammates – and making sure to celebrate every basket with his teammates with a chest bump.
After the footballers flashed their skills on the hardwood, the tides were turned as the event switched balls and had the players work on passing the football around for points. And all of the participants then lined up at the free throw line to test their foul shooting. In the end, it was a great experience for both the legends of football and basketball and the Special Olympics youngsters – not to mention the fans of both sports to see the stars on the court.