Natalie Branscombe heading home after 'dream' weekend with NBA all-stars
'I didn't shoot very great because I think I was a little star struck and nervous!'
From meeting her idols to watching the NBA All-stars in action, Natalie Branscombe is overwhelmed after experiencing one of the best weekends of her life.
The 26-year-old basketball player from Halifax was one of a handful of players from around the world who were selected to play in the NBA Cares Special Olympics United Basketball Game.
"It was a dream come true," said Branscombe of the adventure. She was overwhelmed after working with a long list of her favourite NBA and WNBA legends.
Retweeted NBA Cares (<a href="https://twitter.com/nbacares">@nbacares</a>):<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StephCurry?src=hash">#StephCurry</a> with the honorary tip-off toss in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UnifiedGame?src=hash">#UnifiedGame</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAVine?src=hash">#NBAVine</a>... <a href="https://t.co/asrcMOpDNB">https://t.co/asrcMOpDNB</a>—@SpecialONS
The annual game, which is part of the all-star weekend, mixes basketball superstars with players representing the Special Olympics to highlight the organization.
"Steve Nash... he grabbed my shoulders and he told me I was doing a good job and keep it up!" she said. "High fiving Yao Ming - that was even cooler!"
Through the weekend, Branscombe played in the United game, mingled with Kim Samuel, the director of the Special Olympics, and watched both the dunking contest and the all-star game.
"I remember watching the dunk competition at home with dad on the sofa, and to experience it live with him was really really cool."
Her father, Doug Branscombe, tagged along for the trip. He sounded like a kid in a candy store talking about the opportunity.
"It's been a whirlwind," he said. "The legends were so good with the athletes."
Branscombe says she was nervous when she had her own opportunity to play on the court.
She found herself guarding Ruth Riley, a former player of the WNBA.
"I didn't shoot very great because I think I was a little star struck and nervous," laughed Branscombe. She says she overcame her nerves and landed a basket in the first quarter of the game.
The weekend proved to be an inspiration for Branscombe, who was contemplating giving up the sport just a few months ago.
She met a coach who told her not to give up.
"It's made me believe.. not to give up just yet," she said. "Now I'm ready to keep on going."
It was also a great networking opportunity, as she forged friendships with Special Olympians from around the world.
Her father, Doug, says they'll always be grateful for the opportunity.
"It's nice to see how things are changing and that inclusion is becoming more and more important. And to have the Unified game as part of the NBA all star game is just remarkable."
Me and WNBA Legend Ruth Riley <a href="https://t.co/3p6H5mPoLF">pic.twitter.com/3p6H5mPoLF</a>—@natbcombe