During this past weekend’s NBA All-Star festivities in New York City, SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi was an honorary coach for the victorious Team East in the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports basketball game held at Madison Square Garden. Like other Unified competitions, in which athletes with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same team, this game featured 12 Special Olympics athletes playing alongside NBA legends and WNBA players, including NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, Dell Curry, Detlef Schrempf, Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings.
Front Row caught up with Negandhi, one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Ambassadors, to discuss his favorite memories and moments from the game, what it was like coaching alongside eventual Slam Dunk Contest Champion Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and against eventual Three-Point Contest Champion Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
How would you describe being part of this year’s Unified Game?
I loved seeing the smiles on the faces of the players, especially when we made our double-digit, second-half comeback! The Special Olympics athletes were given the opportunity to have fun and compete with their peers and NBA and WNBA stars, and they embraced it – that’s what sports are all about. My favorite moment was watching all six of the athletes on our team score. They can take that with them for the rest of their lives. They knocked down a shot in a game at Madison Square Garden – the biggest basketball stage in the world.
– Kevin Negandhi, SportsCenter anchor
What was it like coaching alongside NBA players Andrew Wiggins, 2015 Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Damian Lillard?
You can tell how competitive these guys are when you see fellow NBA players and opposing coaches Steph Curry, Wesley Matthews (Portland Trailblazers), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons) and Cody Zeller (Charlotte Hornets) designing plays with a clipboard. I didn’t expect that to happen, so there we were making in-game adjustments in the second half to mount our comeback.
Zach promised a few surprises for that night’s slam dunk contest. It was cool watching him make a national name for himself knowing that just hours earlier, he was passing out advice to the athletes during the Unified game. As always, Damian does such a great job at these events, and it was great seeing Andrew cheer and respond to big plays during the game.
You’ve participated in a variety of Special Olympics/Special Olympics Unified Sports events over the past year, including the 2014 Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games Invitational and the White House’s Special Olympics Celebration for A Unified Generation. Is there an overarching theme that you see/feel at these events?
Special Olympics athletes share an amazing passion for sports. No one is jaded or bitter or selfish. They just want a chance to play and compete. It’s a pure passion. I consider myself lucky to be a part of these events and experiences. Every event takes me back to why I fell in love with sports to begin with.
Considering most of the participants in the Unified Game will also be participating at this summer’s Special Olympics World Games, how much did this game get you excited for LA2015?
This past weekend was a great springboard to get ready for what we have in store for this summer. LA2015 will not only offer an abundance of great competitions and stories, but be filled with the passion and joy that I saw this past weekend.
ESPN is a global presenting sponsor and official media sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports, and the official broadcaster of Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015, the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event, which begins July 25, 2015. In addition, ESPN and fellow Disney-owned ABC are the official media partners of the Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America, which starts on May 26, 2015.