Taliyah Jackson has always loved basketball. But like with most things in life for a 17-year-old, the game doesn’t come easy.
Jackson suffers from Mitochondrial Encephalitis and Ataxia, a condition that affects her muscles and makes it difficult for her to coordinate her movements. She has always dealt with having weak muscles, which causes her to tire easily. She requires regular visits to La Rabida Children’s Hospital, where she is also treated for seizures she started dealing with a few years back.
But on Friday, Jackson, who will to start her senior year at South Shore International College Prep next week, will sign a one-day contract with the Sky before their game against the Seattle Storm at Allstate Arena.
“I was in tears when they called and told us,” Jackson’s mother, Denise Smalley, said. “It was so nice that they would give my daughter the chance to spend the day with them.”
While the seizures are a relatively new challenge, Jackson was dealt with Ataxia for much of her life. The condition delayed her ability to start walking as an infant and affects her hands and her eyes. While she enjoys physical activity — including playing basketball — Ataxia limits how much she can move and how long she can remain on her feet.
That made her one-day contract even more meaningful.
“When they called me and I told her, she was pretty happy,” Smalley said.
Jackson was hospitalized for three months at the end of 2014 and into 2015 when the seizures caused her to lose the ability to walk. During her stay at La Rabida, Jackson was featured in a Bulls Charities video that captured her meeting Jimmy Butler as he went room to room visiting patients.
Although Smalley knew the Sky maintained a charitable relationship with La Rabida, she was surprised when she learned that her daughter would be joining the roster. Last year, the Sky signed Kiara Hood, a teenage La Rabida patient who has hemiplegic cerebral palsy, to a one-day deal.
But after learning about Jackson’s condition, Sky coach and general manager Pokey Chatman knew she had the right recipient.
“When I learned about Taliyah, I was in awe of her ability to smile through the obstacles she’s presented with due to her medical condition,” Chatman said. “She has determination and grit, and that’s why we wanted to make her a member of the team for the day.”
Jackson will be introduced at a news conference at Allstate Arena.
When asked what she was looking forward to most during her one-day WNBA career, Jackson enthusiastically replied, “Meeting the team and playing with them.”
Wolves single-game tickets go on sale Sept. 9. Their home opener is Oct. 15 against the Grand Rapids Griffins. The home schedule includes 15 Saturday night games, 10 Sunday matinees and two school-day games. Go to chicagowolves.com for more information.
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