HEAT Proud Of Their Connection To Nigeria
6 Miami Players Have Direct Link To The Country
It’s no secret that basketball is a global sport.
From China to the United States and everywhere in between, basketball (and in turn the NBA) has grown immensely over the years.
It’s also gotten more popular on the continent of Africa, which includes 54 sovereign countries, one of which has a deep connection to the HEAT.
That would be Nigeria.
Precious Achiuwa was born in the country, while Bam Adebayo, Andre Iguodala, KZ Okpala, Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent have one or both parents from Nigeria originally.
“That’s something that they’ve talked about, having a Team Nigeria in Miami, and I think it’s cool,” Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s just one of those random occurrences, but it shows you how much basketball has grown. The next Basketball Without Borders trip that is in Nigeria, I want to be a part of that one.”
Per Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, Adebayo had actually planned on going to that camp last summer before COVID hit. And at around the age of 16, Adebayo felt compelled to delve more into his Nigerian roots.
“It was something that I was nervous about because my father wasn’t in my life, so I didn’t really have like an easy outlet to just figure out my heritage,” Adebayo said. “It was difficult, so just reading what my name comes from, getting the basics down, like really learning like the heritage and where I’m from and what tribe.”
For other guys like Vincent and Achiuwa, it was a bit different.
Vincent, one of Miami’s two-way players, played for the Nigerian National Team in the FIBA World Cup in 2019 with Josh Okogie and Al-Farouq Aminu. The former UC Santa Barbara standout first thought about playing for the national team in high school and started reaching out to former Nigeria coaches while in college. Though he made the team after sinking a game-winning three against Poland in the 2019 Peak Tournament, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“It was a grind, to be honest. It wasn’t easy to make the team. I didn’t necessarily show well early on in the Training Camp process. And then as I continued to play better, as we went to Nigeria, we were able to interact with our people and be back home as we would call it, and it was just an eye-opening experience,” Vincent said. “You get to experience different cultures. We went to the Dominican Republic, played there. Went to Canada, played there, where I ended up playing against my future teammate Kelly Olynyk, so that was a cool experience when I get here to the HEAT to talk to him about that. It was an amazing experience, man. Fulfilling, I don’t even think that is the word for it. It doesn’t even do it justice. And we felt like we fell short without getting a medal. We felt like we were good enough to medal in the World Cup, but we did the other part of our job to qualify for the Olympics, so that was incredibly fulfilling and an awesome experience to make the people back in Nigeria proud.”
Perhaps Vincent’s connection with his fellow countrymen stemmed from the values he learned from his father, Franklyn.
“There’s the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, and that kind of mindset and mentality, I think with his upbringing, rang very true,” Vincent said. “And the saying is almost very literal, so just taking care of your own and being there for family and obviously all the other pieces of hard work and honesty and integrity and all that comes into play as well.”
Those also came into play for Achiuwa.
“[My parents instilled] just the ‘go get it’ mentality,” Achiuwa said. “Hard work, the way you have to handle your business, always working hard, trusting family, just respect, core values and stuff like that.”
Although the rookie had to adapt to a new culture when he moved from Port Harcourt to the United States in the eighth grade, he knows his upbringing played a vital role in who he’s become.
“I’m really proud of my culture. I’m proud of where I’m from. It made me who I am, and it’s pretty much the foundation of who I am today,” Achiuwa said. “And I wouldn’t trade anything for my culture and me being from Nigeria.”
As guys like Achiuwa, Vincent and Adebayo continue to make a name for themselves, basketball will just continue to get more and more popular in Africa. Of course, the Basketball Africa League, which was organized by the NBA and FIBA, should foster even more interest in the sport. After being founded in February of 2019, the league just tipped off its inaugural season on May 16 of this year.
“There’s a lot of talent in Africa,” Achiuwa said. “Just giving those kids back home an opportunity to be able to showcase their talent in a well-put-together league, I think, is great.”