Utah Jazz assistant coach Scott Morrison might be a little emotional Tuesday night at the Delta Center as the Jazz prepare to play the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it won’t have anything to do with who the Jazz are playing or really anything going on between the lines. It’s what will be on the feet of those on the sidelines that will be important.

On Tuesday, the Jazz are hosting Autism Acceptance Night at the Delta Center and in doing so will kick off a leaguewide campaign that was organized and made possible by Morrison. From Tuesday through April 7, NBA head coaches across the league will wear customized Nike sneakers in order to generate awareness and acceptance for individuals with autism. Jazz head coach Will Hardy will wear the sneakers on Tuesday and on April 7, when the Jazz visit the Golden State Warriors.

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After the campaign comes to an end, the sneakers will be autographed by the NBA coaches who wore them and auctioned off, with proceeds donated to the To the Max Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Morrison and his wife Susanne, and will support autistic individuals and their families.

“This show of support for the autistic community by NBA teams and coaches is remarkable,” Morrison said in a statement. “We are blessed to be in a position to spread a positive message of understanding, and we’re grateful to the Jazz for supporting our efforts to generate acceptance for autistic individuals. Our family will continue to do what we can to generate resources for individuals with autism who deserve our support on the journey to reaching their full potential.”

To the Max

In 2022, while living in Australia and working as head coach of the Perth Wildcats, Morrison and his wife started noticing signs that their 2-year-old son Max was developing at a different rate than other children, especially when it came to speech. The Morrisons were proactive in making appointments for testing and screening and it led to the conclusion that Max was likely autistic.

From April 2 through April 7, NBA head coaches across the league will wear customized Nike sneakers in order to generate awareness and acceptance for individuals with autism.
From April 2 through April 7, NBA head coaches across the league will wear customized Nike sneakers in order to generate awareness and acceptance for individuals with autism. | Courtesy Utah Jazz

With autism, an official and early diagnosis is a crucial element in an individual having access to the right therapy, treatment and resources that lead to more favorable outcomes as an individual ages. But Australia has a track record of delays and difficulty in autism diagnosis. The Morrisons wanted the absolute best for Max, and in their eyes, that meant going somewhere with more access to early diagnosis and intervention.

So after just a year in Australia, the family packed up and went back to Canada, where the Morrisons are from. Scott and Susanne didn’t know exactly what the plan was — they didn’t have jobs in North America lined up — but they knew that Max needed more support. A month later, Max was officially diagnosed. That was right around the time that Will Hardy came calling, offering Morrison a position on his coaching staff with the Utah Jazz.

While in Australia, Morrison got to know former NBA player Aron Baynes, and when Morrison told Baynes about Max, Baynes recommended close friends that had a lot of insight and information about autism, former Jazz man Joe Ingles and his wife Renae.

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The Ingles family helped the Morrisons a lot in the beginning, getting them connected to therapists, schools and other resources that would help Max in Utah.

The Morrisons were fortunate to have the Ingleses to lean on and were fortunate to be in a place with great resources for Max, but they noticed that since the Ingles family had left Utah, there was a bit of a void as far as awareness and fundraising was concerned. So, they started the To the Max Foundation and started brainstorming ideas to bring more awareness and acceptance to autism.

It started small

Last summer, Morrison thought it might be a cool thing if he got a few of the NBA’s coaches to wear customized sneakers in April, Autism Acceptance Month, and then have them auctioned off. If it got a few more eyes and ears paying attention to issues surrounding autism, great. If it raised a few bucks, even greater.

It started small, with Morrison approaching Hardy and a few other coaches he had a previous relationship with — Joe Mazzulla (Boston Celtics), who is Max’s godfather, Frank Vogel (Phoenix Suns), Nick Nurse (Philadelphia 76ers), Mike Brown (Sacramento Kings), Tom Thibodeau (New York Knicks) and Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets). Everyone was on board and willing to help out. Morrison was thrilled and thought it was a great turnout, thinking maybe in 2025 they could get a few more coaches to join.

But then things started to gain a bit more traction.

The NBA Coaches Association executive director, David Fogel, started to reach out to the rest of the coaches in the league. Chuck Terrell, the Jazz’s senior director of basketball intelligence, who used to work for Nike, got Nike involved. Shawn James, the Utah Jazz’s manager of college scouting, recommended Morrison get in touch with artist Jonathon Millar (JSM 801 Customs), who is a Salt Lake City-based artist who was excited to be a part of the project. Everywhere Morrison turned, there was someone else willing to pitch in.

Though it started with the thought that maybe Morrison could do something small that could make a difference, it culminated in the campaign that kicks off Tuesday at the Delta Center and will see coaches leaguewide helping to raise awareness and acceptance around autism.

The design

The bespoke sneakers were customized by JSM 801 Customs, a Salt Lake City-based design studio. Each pair has been painted with each NBA team’s colors and a rainbow infinity symbol. The symbol represents the neurodiversity paradigm and is also featured in the logo for the To the Max Foundation, the nonprofit founded by Morrison and his wife, Susanne, in honor of their 4-year-old son Max, who was diagnosed with autism in 2022. Following the weeklong campaign, the lovingly worn shoes will be autographed by the coaches who wore them and auctioned off with proceeds donated to “To the Max Foundation” to support autistic individuals and their families.