Nigerian Basketball – knocking on the door of greatness!

The times and signs are ominous on the political and economic scene in Nigeria. At the same time, there is a rainbow in the sky – bright and colourful, but brief.

Aspects of the entertainment industry, surprisingly, are thriving and showing up as perfect antithesis to the challenges the entire country is going through during this period of a global pandemic that has grounded life the way we used to live it.

Even the Nigerian sports sector that used to suffer the most vilification for lack of direction and proper development of its domestic sector, throws up the occasional bright spots of hope and opportunities. These, break through the dark clouds of despair and shine the light of possibilities on the gloomy landscape.

The reason is simple. Blacks of African descent, are born athletes, designed by nature for some specific sports. They come with DNAs laden with physical strength, explosive speed and power. When they discover the particular sport that feeds on their unique genes, and they hone them, they start to flourish and excel in the sport.

Mentally, they are prepared to succeed because that’s the surest way to survive. They are toughened by the harsh and hard conditions under which the Black person lives everywhere on earth.  To ‘win’ is the way to beat the oppression, discrimination, inequality, as well as the uneven playing fields offered him by other human species of other colours. That is the harsh and brutal reality – the Black person is alone in his corner.

Despite this bleak global atmosphere, Nigerians continue to throw up reminders of what they can achieve if only the conditions were right, the right structures were in place, and things were done differently, particularly in applying tested systems and structures from other climes to refine their own gifted, human ‘raw materials’

So, Nigeria, as the leader of the black race by virtue of her largest harbour of Blacks on earth, and one of the largest suppliers and exporters of their healthiest and strongest from Africa during the slave trade, continues to carry the cross of that distant past, only demonstrating ‘potentials’, never achieving maximally, never benefitting maximally too, always creating the ‘rainbows’ in the sky – beautiful but brief.  That’s what has happened again on the eve of another edition of the greatest human event, the Olympic Games.
Nigeria has come up again with another powerful demonstration of the African man’s capability to do in basketball what ‘Napoleon Bonaparte could not do on the battlefield of war’.

In a series of pre-Olympic Games exhibition, but highly contested, matches, Nigeria took on the greatest country in the history of basketball, the USA, on their own turf, and to the consternation of the world and followers of basketball, did a ‘David’, and defeated ‘Golliath’.

In a single match that was contested toe to toe for the entire 4 quarters of a terrific ‘champagne’ thriller, the world was roused from a slumber that has lasted over 4 Centuries to confront a stark new reality that Africans have arrived at another tipping point where a new day and a new dawn in basketball beckon, where Africa becomes the new future and the next frontier, and Nigeria, the country taking the lead.

Last week, completely from the blues, totally unexpectedly, Americans were caught by surprise when Nigeria presented the first African basketball team in history to defeat the all-powerful and highest-ranked team in the world.

The significance of that victory is that having tasted the ‘forbidden fruit’ of unexpected but well-earned victories, there is now no turning back. I can testify that the victories are an elixir, once tasted, forever smitten.

It started at the Olympic Games of 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. A Nigerian football team called the Super Eagles, came from ‘nowhere’, playing unbelievable football, parading a group of players hewn by the country’s harsh environment and refined by the established sports cultures of European football, to produce an awesome display of attacking, free-flowing, unadulterated football, a mixture of natural talent, flair and sophisticated training, to outplay two of the greatest footballing countries in history – Brazil and Argentina. Nigeria took them on, back to back, and deservedly carted away the Gold Medal for the first time in the history of the Olympics.

The consequence of that victory is the arrival of Africans to the door of new possibilities on the global stage. The ‘calabash’ of inferiority was broken. African footballers realised they could win at any level of competition, including the World Cup. Belief in that possibility burst through their veins like a long smouldering volcano that suddenly explodes.

4 years after that Nigerian feat in Atlanta, during the next Summer Games in Sydney in 2000, because Nigeria had done it before, another African country, Cameroon, performed a similar feat and won the Gold medal in football. The genie had escaped from the bottle. Winning is no longer a sacred and exclusive right of only a few countries in football.

When Blacks in America discovered their natural flair for basketball, they took over the sport. When Blacks in America discovered their natural relationship with sprints and jumps, they have since then been dominating those events in world athletics.

When Jamaicans tasted the once-hidden Black-American power of sprinting and jumping, they started to compete with them after deploying the same strategies for development. They are actually winning the contest between both countries now.
All it takes is self-discovery of an inherent natural talent, which when refined, can open up new levels in performance that can create champions.

Last week, finally, it was Nigeria’s turn to etch her name and place in the global basketball hierarchy. It now makes sense how the country could produce a Hakeem ‘the Dream’ Olajuwon one of the greatest basketball players in history. It is both in our stars as weĺl as in our genes.

3 days after that historic feat against The USA, D’Tigers, as the Nigerian national basketball team for men is nicknamed, in confirming their new status, took on the 4th best-ranked team in the world, Argentina, and trounced them resoundingly too.

That was affirming that this new development is no fluke. The world of basketball must wake up immediately to the new reality – Nigeria has arrived at the highest levels of basketball.  Henceforth, anything is possible. Even a podium place at Tokyo 2020, unlikely on paper, cannot be considered farfetched and impossible now.

Nigeria lost its third exhibition match to another basketball giant, Australia. It did not matter much. It was an essential wake up call for the team not to rest on their oars, not to take things and teams for granted, but to keep working harder and be more consistent, at this level.
Undoubtedly, the team’s arrival at the apex level of the game is now established.

As Tokyo 2020 commences, hopes are high that Nigeria can be on the podium at the end, even though it would really not matter if they do, or not.

What is most important is tasting the nectar of victory, which they did during the pre-Olympics exhibition matches. At the Olympics proper, anything is now possible with the D’Tigers.

Beyond the men’s team is the extra possibility of icing on the cake for Nigeria.
The women’s team is also in Tokyo.
The world should watch out for double performances. The women are applying the same prescriptions for their training as the men. They are deploying similar strategic formulae on honing their natural athleticism with the high technology development in Collegiate basketball in America. The team comprises mostly Nigerians born and bred in the US, and now being passed through the furnace of WNBA processes to become world-class players.
Culturally, Nigerian female athletes often perform better than their male counterparts in most sports. The records speak.
With such a background, that what the men can do the women can do even better, D’Tigress, the female national basketball team, has been injected with the ‘virus’ of achievements by the exploits of the men’s team. The girls are fired up and raring to go and shatter, also, the barrier of any previously hindering complex. They are brimming with determination and new confidence that can impact results in the women’s event at the Olympics.

So, all eyes are trained on Nigeria’s basketball teams 7 days to the Tokyo Games, as Nigeria knocks on the door of greatness in basketball!

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