Memphis Special Olympics athlete plays alongside NBA All Stars - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis Special Olympics athlete plays alongside NBA All Stars

By Josh Frydman

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - There's no task too tall for local athlete Tony Payne.

Last summer, Payne, 19, rappelled 23 stories down the side of the I-Bank Tower.  Going toe to toe with some of the NBA's greatest players was no problem for Payne.

Payne took up basketball just three years ago, but he's become a quick learner.

"I got better at it," said Payne.

When Special Olympics Greater Memphis Director Lisa Taylor learned of an opportunity to submit an athlete to participate in this year's NBA All Star game, Payne was the clear choice.

"He's remarkable," said Taylor.  "His attitude, his heart, his character.  Tony is exactly what the Special Olympics is all about."

Making the cut was not easy for Payne.

"We had to do all these video tapes, he had to answer all these questions, play 10 minutes of basketball non-stop, and do all these drills," said Taylor.  "It was really tough."

Fortunately, it was not too tough for Payne.  The NBA selected him as one of just 12 Special Olympics athletes from across the country to play alongside NBA legends and current NBA All Stars in the first ever NBA Cares/Special Olympics Unity Sports basketball game last week in Orlando.

"I got excited," said Payne.  "I was happy, and my opportunity to go to Orlando and play with the other guys, I feel so good right now."

Payne credited the Special Olympics, his coach, and a famous family member with helping him hone his skills for the shot of a lifetime.

"For me, it's just about Tony, just so proud of him," said former NBA player and Memphis Tiger Elliot Perry.  "So happy he's in our family."

Perry is Payne's cousin.

"I got the genes from him because that's my cousin," said Payne.

"Payne's Special Olympics friends have always cheered him on and been behind him every step of the way.

"You are my best friend on the basketball team," Special Olympics athlete Ben Sumner.

Surrounding by caring friends, family, and coaches, it is no surprise that Payne has reached for the stars.

Payne also helped build a local playground in Orlando as part of NBA Cares Day of Service.

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