Suns' Devin Booker named global Special Olympics ambassador

When the NBA was placed on an extended hiatus in mid-March, Phoenix Suns All-Star Devin Booker's thumbs were twitching on a gaming console. In between maneuvering massive, digital war tanks and in front of a camera for the world to see online, Booker was told that games would be suspended until further notice.

Publicly, Booker was in disbelief, repeating again and again that there was "no way."

Privately, his thoughts turned to his then-17-year-old sister, Mya, who has a chromosomal abnormality called microdeletion syndrome, which causes mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.

His relationship with his sister heightened Booker's sensitivity to the challenges people with disabilities face in social situations. Over the course of his NBA career, he has worked with Special Olympics organizers to bring its members to two draft lotteries.

On Thursday morning, Booker became the newest Special Olympics global ambassador.

"I am really excited about it," Booker told ESPN during a phone interview. "I have always dibbled and dabbled in partnering with them. Being raised with my sister and the challenges she faces every day have always driven me."

As an ambassador, Booker will continue to work with Special Olympics Arizona, hold conversations with young Special Olympics athletes on social media and participate in international Special Olympic events.

"I think the timing is perfect in giving information on how this can affect other people," said Booker, who will be on Instagram live at 3 p.m. ET Thursday with ESPN's Maria Taylor to discuss his new role.

Booker said he feels it is an important time to spread information about how people with disabilities might be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

One in four American adults lives with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dangers of COVID-19 are even more acute for people with chronic health conditions and compromised immune systems. The CDC has advised that those individuals are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus and, in many cases, their symptoms might be more severe.

According to the CDC, people with disabilities often have underlying medical conditions, making them more vulnerable in the coronavirus pandemic. For Booker, those threats hit close to home.

Since the NBA was placed on an indefinite pause, Booker has been practicing social isolation but still gets occasional visits from a chef, trainer or housekeeper. Because of this, Mya, who turned 18 on March 21, isn't able to spend time at his home. Usually, when Booker isn't on the road with the Suns, he hosts his family multiple times per week.

"During this time, my sister and my mom have been totally isolated from coming to my house," Booker said. "Every time I see them, I go to them during this time. That is a learning lesson for everybody about social distancing and how serious this situation is. Know that you're not only affecting yourself, you could affect someone else who it could be a much tougher case for."

Now, the family plays the board game Sorry! over FaceTime, Uno games have become a virtual affair, and Mya proudly sends her brother photos of the puzzles she completed during her quarantine.

"Having somebody in my life that faces challenges every day with the immune system, I think people are not aware of it," Booker said. "People need to hear about it more and how this can really affect other people lives, no matter how healthy you are. I would say it's selfish in a way, but it's not quite selfish because they don't have the right information."

Booker paused before settling on the word "naive" as an apt description.

The NBA has now been without games for more than four weeks. In addition to spending time with his sister, Booker said he is filling his time with playing video games, borrowing puzzles from Mya, shooting hoops on a basket that his brother assembled in the driveway, working out and pondering organizing virtual piano lessons.

"I'm trying to be the most productive I can and see the silver lining," Booker said. "There will never be a time like this -- hopefully -- again in our lives. I want to take advantage of this time the most I can before everything ramps up again."