By Gabriel Katz
On Friday night at the Barclay’s Center, a group featuring some of the biggest fans of the Brooklyn Nets sat suite level. They were split in their output of enthusiasm — half the group jumped out of their seats with raucous excitement, the other half sat intense with subdued applause. Some followed every play, others yelled “DE-FENSE” and high-fived regardless of the situation. Some danced, some ate, all of them marveled in amazement when the Brooklyn Knight mascot came by for a visit.
When the game ended (in a loss) they filed towards the exit. It was late and most of the building’s occupants had left, except for these particular fans who hadn’t yet seen their main attraction. With shy grins or uncontrollable smiles, pocketed hands or arms outstretched, they stood with NBA All-Star Deron Williams, who along with his family was waiting to thank them for coming.
For the second straight year, Williams and his Point of Hope Foundation filled luxury suites with families affected by autism, a nod to both Autism Awareness Month and a personal preferred cause for Williams. Sitting in the suites provides access for those with a need for quiet space or other accommodations, and for many of the families in attendance it was their first game.
“I know what it feels like to be a parent and have a child with autism and go through the whole process of finding out and being sad,” Williams said after meeting with the students from the League School in Brooklyn. “[Parents are] trying to figure out what you’re going to do from there and trying to give your child the best life that they possibly can have going forward.”
Williams adopted this outlook shortly after adopting his son DJ, who as a toddler was diagnosed with autism. Now a leader in the autism awareness community, he acknowledged the acceptance process he and his family went through, which has now become a state of embracing.
“Obviously with his son being affected, he really could’ve just stopped right there and had resources go to his family and they could’ve just taken care of their son and been just fine,” said Jamitha Fields, Vice President of Community Affairs for Autism Speaks. “But he wanted to be sure that other people were taken care of as well… having a person like Deron in our corner and being our champion, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Autism Speaks organizes events such as these throughout the country, often merging professional sports teams with children and families who need and deserve the opportunity to enjoy a game. But Williams, she said, adds his personal touch to the event based on his own experience with the disorder and his motivation to help.
“These kids range from moderate to high on the spectrum, so it can be tough at times for kids — for the parents really, to bring their kids to a game and try and enjoy the games and hold on to them and keep them quiet,” Williams said. “It can be stressful so we try to provide them with the best experience we can.”
Williams uses his foundation to not only help families currently dealing with autism, but also those who may in the future. He focuses on bringing awareness to inner cities and underserved communities that could use information on diagnosing the disorder early, something he says helped in his own process.
Events like this particular evening produce rather tangible results, seen on the faces of the fans who walked away with an autographed jersey, shirt or program from the NBA superstar.
“First you have the reaction of the parents and the siblings that are able to be out with their loved one that have autism in an environment that is very friendly and welcoming,” Fields said. “Then you have the individual who can feel free to be themselves and enjoy, without any stares or anything being uncomfortable… It’s a family environment with other families of kids that have autism, it couldn’t be better.”
To find out more about the Point of Hope Foundation visit:http://www.deronwilliams.com/pointofhope
To learn more about Autism Speaks visit: www.autismspeaks.org/