The European Basketball Week held annually by Special Olympics has been taking place this week on courts across Europe. Across 37 European countries, around 19,000 athletes with and without intellectual disabilities have been getting involved with 250 events, including women's basketball and 3x3 games. With the backing of Euroleague Basketball's social responsibility program One Team, the week is a celebration of the power of sport to unify and break down barriers.
Nobody is closer to the great work carried out than Zalgiris Kaunas sharpshooter Arturas Milaknis, who serves as an Ambassador for both One Team and Special Olympics.
Milaknis revealed that his connection with Special Olympics is personal and deep-rooted.
"My father was a Special Olympics coach and my brother is also into it now," he said. "So I am happy that I can continue the work my father started, and apply the knowledge he transmitted to me.
"I have learned a lot from my father about the kids from Special Olympics. They are talented in different ways – all they need is support from the outside and that someone encourages them to think bigger and trust in them. They are special in a wonderful way. They always want to smile and they have the ambition to improve in every session."
This season Zalgiris has developed its One Team program together with Special Olympics Lithuania, with the main objective of integrating of the intellectually disabled athletes into society, as well as helping the participants to gain self-confidence and improve their communication skills.
Milaknis attended the first session and saw an example of exactly why One Team is so powerful, explaining: "We had a lot of fun, talking with the kids, doing a couple of drills and tests, and answering their questions.
"We had a really good time together and after the session I found out that the boy who had the strongest fear of public speaking was the one with the longest list of questions. For me, this is what the Special Olympics and One Team programs are about and I'm very excited to be a part of it."
One Team, supported by Turkish Airlines as the One Team Founding Patron and with the collaboration of Special Olympics as Proud Partner, uses basketball to achieve meaningful social impact in our communities across Europe and is supported by every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup.
Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already helped more than 19,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.