The smiles on the faces of the four Special Olympics athletes touring the Orlando Magic facility Tuesday lit up the practice gym as they interacted with several players.
The biggest smile, however, beamed off the face of Magic forward Aaron Gordon. Sometimes a player representative designated to be involved with special interest groups in the community will just go through the motions as part of his job. Not Gordon. His involvement with Special Olympics means a great deal to the Magic forward and it’s quite obvious when he talks about it.
Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon shows some love to Special Olympics athletes Michael WIlkie (light blue shirt) ad Joe Burgan (back) after practice on Tuesday. Gordon is heavily involved with his support for the organization and they presented him with a framed medal Tuesday. (Courtesy Orlando Magic)
“That was awesome … it’s kind of like an energy boost both ways. I see that they are happy and they’re proud of me and it’s mutual, I’m right back there with them,” Gordon said. “I’m so proud of all of them and the endeavors that they’ve overcome. … They have gold medals. They won. They’ve just had to overcome so much in their lives and they’re just some happy and so joyous and so all about basketball.”
The group was on hand Tuesday to present Gordon with a small plaque thanking him for his involvement with the Special Olympics of Florida. Gordon was recently part of a star-studded cast of presenters at the organization’s annual awards banquet.
“It was just kind of a medal for helping out and being part of the program, just kind of as a server, helping them with whatever they need and just kind of honoring me in that way,” Gordon said. “That’s one of the best accomplishment I’ve ever gotten.
“To get that medal, it’s something bigger than me, way bigger than all of us … helping the next person, no matter who it is, achieve their goals or reach their dreams and feel special about themselves.”
Magic forward Aaron Gordon poses with Special Olympics athletes Alex Cooper, Joe Burgan, Michael Wilkie and Nicole Hogan after practice on Tuesday. Gordon is holding the plaque Special Olympics presented him for his role as a supporter of the organization. (Courtesy Orlando Magic)
The part Gordon plays in helping out with Special Olympics is something the athletes and administrators wanted to recognize, and the plaque was a small gesture of appreciation.
“It was amazing to come out on the courts the Magic are playing on and training on the day of a game to present Aaron Gordon with our gratitude and gold medal for being such a champion to our athletes,” said Sherry Wheelock, CEO and president of Special Olympics Florida. “Aaron has been a great ambassador for us, both providing us with support and doing some videos with us. And he’s also done a presentation the last two years at our awards banquet … and that has been tremendous.
“It just really raises the level of what we’re doing and we just love him. He such a nice man and he spends time with our athletes, as you can see today. He just genuinely loves to be around them.”
Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon checks out Nicole Hogan’s gold medal she won as part of the swimming medley relay team at theSpecial Olympics USA Games this past summer in Seattle. Relay teammate Alex Cooper was also at Magic practice Tuesday. (Courtesy Orlando Magic)
Recent swimming medley relay gold medal winners Alex Cooper and Nicole Hogan, who participated in the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle this Past summer, were part of the four-person contingent at Magic practice Tuesday. They were joined by basketball athletes Michael Wilkie and Joe Burgan.
“He has awesome jumpshot and is awesome player,” Cooper said of Gordon. “My best friend [Hogan] and me, we watch the Magic games together and it feels good to see that.”
Wilkie is a huge Magic fan and has actually been following Gordon since his days in college at the University of Arizona. “Yeah, he was surprised when I told him that,” said the charismatic Wilkie, who has a very outgoing personality.
The Special Olympians got a chance to show the Magic they are athletes and among the best in their respective sports.
Magic assistant coach Steve Hetzel told Wilkie he did a great job passing the basketball during his rebounding session with some of the players and Wilkie responded, “I’m a basketball player.”