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Spain’s Oscar Entry ‘Champions’ Special-Needs Players

Former Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol reflects on special-needs sports and “Champions,” Spain’s Oscar entry, a blockbuster hit on home turf and sold almost worldwide.

Champions” turns on an off-the-rails Spanish coach sentenced to train a basketball team of special-needs players. Are such teams common in Spain?

Fortunately, there are more and more initiatives. The film’s inspired by Aderes, from Burjassot near Valencia, that won 12 Spanish basketball championships in a row.

Three years ago, I incorporated a basketball program for people with intellectual disabilities into my summer camp, Pau Gasol Academy. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to play basketball with people who live the sport with an enormous level of joy and embody powerful values, becoming an example
for all of us.

“The more they practice, the more they socialize, they happier they are,” says the director of Los Amigos club in “Champions.” Is this your experience?

Every sport strengthens personal relationships. In the case of people with disabilities, the role of sports is key, making them feel part of a team with a common purpose.

Marco, Los Amigos’ coach goes from calling the special-needs people names to calling them just “people.” Can sports eliminate such prejudices?

Undoubtedly, sports can contribute to change those misconceptions that are normally placed on those who are different. Being different doesn’t mean being worse, it means that their qualities and skills are different. Sports can help highlight those qualities.

“I like to win,” Marco says. You’ve played on some of the greatest teams in the world, without always winning. Could you comment?

As a professional athlete, the goal’s always to win. With amateur sports, learning values and personal development are the main objectives, and exercising has tremendous benefits everyone’s health. You play it because it’s fun and because it allows you to connect with others.

Is there anything about basketball in particular that makes it a great sport for special-needs people to play?

Its rules and conditions. They make it fun and easy to play.

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