The Golden State Warriors lined out against the Boston Celtics yesterday at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght. Now it may not have been Steph Curry on court but the colours and the kit were the same as part of an exciting new initiative linking Irish clubs, schools and the stars of the NBA.
26 teams from ten different counties had all been assigned an NBA team in a draft earlier in the autumn and have been playing matches as part of a fun league over the past six weeks.
They gathered yesterday for a day of games, skills and fun, and also got to meet NBA ambassador, Ronny Turiaf, who was on hand to show them some skills and tricks on the day.
Many of the schools are in their first year of playing basketball, and there was huge excitement as they got to experience the big court at the National Basketball Arena alongside their friends, classmates and teachers.
The Jr NBA is a global programme run in over 70 countries and is built on the principles of fun, teamwork and respect.
“Jr NBA has really taken off and it is our main engagement activity with young people around the world,” said Henry Utku, Grassroots Project Manager with the NBA out of their London office.
“We introduced the Leagues idea three years ago and we now have 28 countries across Europe as well as in Canada, Africa and around the world,”
“The majority of the players and the schools that get involved might never have played the game or touched the ball but afterwards they are hooked. They get an interest in the team that their school gets in the draft we hold and the ones that really bite get really involved.”
“The Celtics were a big hit here in Ireland as well as the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors.”
“It’s all about introducing the sport and perhaps finding a few players that might never have come across the sport. We’ve reached out to two million children so far and we have ambitious targets in Europe, Africa and China.”
“During last year we looked at expansion and Conor Meany from Basketball Ireland expressed an interest so once the commitment was there we were very keen.”
“The sport here is in great shape and the clubs and the schools have really thrown themselves into it.”
“This is the first year and we are signed up to be back for another three after this so really looking forward to that.”
“Perhaps the team that really took it to heart was the one from Scoil Mhuire agus Iosef in Sligo who drew Utah Jazz and have been doing all sorts of research.”
“It’s been amazing for the kids,” said Shane O’Mara from the school who is also an assistant coach with EJ Sligo All Stars.
“We found out all about Ronnie who has a great life story and the kids really bought into his story. A lot of them might not be involved in sport but this has really brought them in. It’s been a great day and they are buzzing.”
The day was sponsored by DeCare Dental who had special interactive desks set up to teach the kids about the amounts of sugar that they would find in all sorts of sweets and everyday foods as well as teaching them about good dental care.
“This was a great opportunity for us,” said Managing Director Maureen Walsh who has been back in Ireland 20 years but still maintains a detectable US accent.
“We see it through people that work for us that if they come from a sporting background they are really well suited to the kind of teamwork and discipline that make’s a great company.”
“We have 125 people working with us in Mayo and Dublin and while most of our work is business to business in terms of dental care plans this is a great way of giving something back into communities.”
Speaking after the noise had died down and the buses dispatched back to the four corners of the country Basketball Ireland’s Conor Meany reflected on the day.
“Seeing so many kids getting involved in basketball for the first time has been absolutely fantastic and we hope that they will go on now and link up with the clubs in their area to keep learning more about the game.”
“The Jr NBA is all about fun, respect and teamwork and the 26 teams here today certainly showed just that. We were honoured to have Ronny Turiaf as our ambassador for the event, and there was great excitement for all the kids who got to meet him and chat to him.”
Having a sponsor like DeCare Dental who really helped to make it a day of fun learning as well was a big plus and we can’t wait for next year’s event already.”
Image Credit: David Fitzgerald, Sportsfile