Special Olympics Florida

Janaiya Warren plays Unified during NBA All-Star Weekend

Special Olympics Florida athlete Janaiya Warren of Kissimmee was among 12 Special Olympics athletes from around the world selected to compete in the 8th Annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports® Game on February 15, in Charlotte, North Carolina as part of NBA All-Star Weekend. The game took place at Bojangles Coliseum.

The NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Game represents a 44-year global partnership between Special Olympics and the NBA. Taking place each year during NBA All-Star, the Unified Game pairs Special Olympics athletes with NBA and WNBA players and legends in a 40-minute game of inclusion and acceptance.

Janaiya practicing with Mikami Hayato of Special Olympics Japan during the NBA All-Star Weekend

This year’s Unified game featured Warren and 11 other Special Olympics athletes representing 7 countries, as well as athletes competing in Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Each athlete enjoyed an unforgettable NBA All-Star experience, including a meet-and-greet with members of the NBA family and tickets to events throughout the week.

“I can’t believe this opportunity came my way and I’m honored to play in the game,” Warren said. “My love for basketball started at the age of six when my dad coached me. Unfortunately, my father passed away, but I know he’s still watching over me. My love for basketball still grows, and I enjoy being a team player. I was excited to play in the memory of my dad.”

It was no small task for Warren to earn her spot on the roster in Charlotte. She had to complete an application process that included submitting a video where Warren had to make a case for being selected. She had help though from an aspiring sports anchor, and fellow classmate at Saint Cloud High School, Eddie Hernandez. You can check out the video here.

Janaiya huddles with her teammates during a practice at the NBA All-Star Weekend

“We were incredibly excited for Janaiya to participate in the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports Game. It’s a huge honor and we couldn’t be prouder of her, she was one of only just twelve athletes selected from around the world,” said Herley Pellew, Special Olympics Florida’s Manager of Unified Champion Schools.

Here at home, Warren competes with the Saint Cloud High School Unified team and has competed with Special Olympics since her sophomore year. “Janaiya has competed in a wide range of sports since she was young – cheerleading, softball, basketball, volleyball, and track. It is important as a parent to keep your children busy with positive things, and Janaiya took a particular liking to basketball,” said Mallissa Warren, Janaiya’s mother.

Janaiya receiving an autograph from NBA legend, Ron Harper.

First held at NBA All-Star 2012, the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game continues the long-standing partnership that started when the league helped to introduce the sport of basketball to Special Olympics more than 40 years ago. Following the game, the NBA and WNBA legends hosted more than 50 youth athletes from local Special Olympics Programs for a basketball clinic at the Charlotte Convention Center. The NBA and WNBA legends playing alongside these determined athletes included Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky), Ashley Battle and A’ja Wilson, WNBA legend Swin Cash and NBA legends Horace Grant, Ron Harper, Muggsy Bogues and Dikembe Mutombo.

As Dikembe Mutombo says, “it’s so important to have Unified Sports — because we don’t want anyone in this world to feel they are different. We all are the same, we live in the same world, we all have the same passion and vision. We want all to be united.”

Learn more about Special Olympics Unified Sports and how you can become involved.