Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS
Marcus Rodriguez poses with Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson after the team's practice on March 15.

At the Brooklyn Nets’ state-of-the-art practice facility overlooking the Manhattan skyline in Sunset Park, forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made an unexpected friend when Glendale-based nonprofit Play4Autism visited the team’s practice on March 15.

As practice came to an end, Hollis-Jefferson walked over to the corner of the expansive gym where four autistic children and their families had been watching for more than an hour. He said hello and posed for pictures with everyone, but 2-year-old Isabella wanted to get on the court.

Against the wishes of other Nets personnel, Hollis-Jefferson jogged back out onto the floor with a beaming smile and Isabella in close pursuit.

“That’s what she had been wanting to do since we got here: she wanted to run out there,” said Isabella’s mother, Stephanie Graver. “That was really nice that she got to do that. She’s in her prime when she’s out in the open, so I know that she enjoyed this.”

Founded in 2012 by Greg Vasicek, Play4Autism raises money and awareness to support local autistic children and adults through various sporting events and partnerships with charitable organizations. The charity also helps provide sports programs that teach valuable life skills through physical activity and engagement.

Vasicek has organized many events in which the children in his programs get to meet professional athletes, but he said he doesn’t often see what played out between Hollis-Jefferson and Isabella.

“This creates memories, but it’s also the self-esteem, it’s that boost that the kids get,” Vasicek said. “Like with one of the players bringing little Bella out there running around, that’s not going to happen much. I have to give kudos to the Nets — this is a class act.”

Nearly the entire team took a few minutes to come visit with the families, including well-known players like D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll and Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Quincy Acy and Jahlil Okafor.

Anthony Ululati, whose 21-year-old son Joseph seemed to be studying the shooting form of Harris as he took jump shots a few feet away during practice, said that opportunities like this allow parents to reflect on how far their children have come.

“Joseph loves basketball, that’s one of his favorite pastimes and he goes to the schoolyard every weekend,” Ululati said. “When he was little, he was all over the place and we never even had eye contact. Now he’s actually in a much better place, so as a parent you’re really happy.”

Aleena Rodriguez said her 12-year-old son Marcus is also a huge basketball fan, but the day was much bigger than just the sport.

“It’s definitely great, especially for children with autism to be a part of the society and accepted and be able to do this as a group, it’s fun,” Rodriguez said.

Paddy and Sheila Vega brought their 7-year-old son Jariel, who is a Nets superfan. Sheila said Jariel has gone to several Nets games, but when she told Jariel he was going to meet the players he made sure to memorize all of their names. He came to practice that day with his Nets hat on and never stopped smiling.

“That smile on his face brings me joy,” said Paddy Vega. “I’m just holding in the tears so nobody will see.”


Join The Discussion

Related Stories
Nets star Brook Lopez hosts youth camp at Queens College
Nets star Brook Lopez hosts youth camp at Queens College
Nets center Brook Lopez to host youth basketball camp at Queens College
Nets center Brook Lopez to host youth basketball camp at Queens College
Popular Stories
Photo via Pixabay
7 Queens neighborhoods make list of NYC's most expensive communities
Photos courtesy of the NYPD
Bayside man busted with over 60 guns in his home now behind bars without bail (UPDATED)
Photos by Liz Clayman
New restaurant in Long Island City serves up thin crust pizza from a renowned chef

Skip to toolbar