The long arm of the NBA has plucked talent from almost every corner of the world.
Africa is one continent that has been very good to the league, producing future Hall of Famers like Dikembe Mutombo and Steve Nash, current stars like Luol Deng and Serge Ibaka, and future Lottery picks like Joel Embiid and Emmanuel Mudiay.
Few would argue against the claim that Hakeem Olajuwon is the greatest basketball player to ever come out of Africa. During an 18-year pro career — all but one of those seasons spent with the Houston Rockets — the Nigerian Muslim center won two NBA championships and two Finals MVP awards; he was voted league MVP in 1994; and he was voted league Defensive Player of the Year twice. He averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game in an era in which the NBA was loaded with superstars at the center position, including Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Alonzo Mourning.
Since his retirement in 2002, Olajuwon has become a renowned coach and personal instructor, hosting some the league’s top players at his home gym in Houston and helping them refine their low-post moves. Some of his students have included Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire and LeBron James.
Last week he took on a new role, as the NBA pegged Olajuwon as its new ambassador to Africa. Some quotes from Olajuwon in his first press conference after getting the job:
“I have a great passion for Africa and I am interested to engage with the youth of Africa. This already started last year with my involvement with the launch of the Power Forward initiative in Nigeria, engaging with corporate sponsors and government bodies to promote the game. It’s a big role with huge potential.”
“First of all, the NBA has a presence in Africa. They see the potential, opportunities and with Amadou (Gallo Fall) providing the necessary leadership, pulling the infrastructure and awareness, the future is bright just like China many years ago.”
“The first thing African Federations need to address is the facilities. When you look at the facilities where the game is played at High school level, the majority of them are not good enough. They need to improve them as a base. They also need to be creating opportunities to watch the games, to help create greater aspirations.”
“The federations can work with the NBA, improving facilities because one major advantage for us in Africa is the physique and athletic abilities we have in abundance. African kids are endowed with the best physical attributes for the game.”
“My advice to parents is to encourage their kids to take their passion seriously such that when opportunity knocks, they can be ready for the school program.”
“Basketball needs to become the second most important sport on the continent because that’s the potential. You can’t compete with the reach of soccer.”
“It’s a big adjustment coming from Africa. A lot will depend on how comfortable and how socially amenable you are because essentially you will have something to offer before you are considered in the first place. You have the conditioning, weight and the best part of adjusting includes nutrition and diet as well as the training regime to immediately impact quick improvements to your talent and development. But the best part of it is that if you are good enough you can make it in the game. Even more it’s a dream journey. You get a degree, an education and that’s the game changer.”