Nigerian basketball players are becoming more and more of an occurrence in the most famous basketball league in the world, the NBA, which is based in the US and Canada. It’s not surprising, as Nigerian basketball is truly on the rise itself. It wasn’t long ago that African countries were seen as unequal in talent, and a bit of a joke, in comparison to the rest of the world’s basketball teams. Yet, in July, the FIBA actually had the Nigerian national team (whose nickname is D’Tigers) ranked as being the fourth-best in the world in their official standings, which was reported at Complete Sports.
So, we thought, what better time to have a look at some of the best Nigerian players to have ever played in the NBA.
Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndulue was born in Benin City, Nigeria, and then was moved by his parents to live with his uncle in Yuba City, California. Standing at 6ft 8in, Ezeli was quickly encouraged by his uncle to take up the sport of basketball. Well, hats off to his uncle, because Ezeli ended up growing to 6ft 11in, and went on to become a magnificent NBA player for the Golden State Warriors.
Ezeli played for the Warriors from 2012 to 2016, as a center. He was, mostly, used to coming off the bench, but when he was in the game, he put up impressive numbers in blocks and points. His dynamic play helped the Warriors win the NBA Championship in 2015 and then, again, in 2016. Ezeli is still playing today, but back in Nigeria with the Rivers Hoopers, who play in the Nigerian Premier League.
Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon
Easily the greatest Nigerian basketball player ever, the towering Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon lit up the NBA from 1984 to 2002. Most of that time was spent at the Houston Rockets, where his 7ft frame played center and helped the team became NBA Champions for the first time in their history in 1994, and then captured it again the year after, in 1995. He was so popular with fans, because of his incredibly graceful way of playing the game, and his ability to soar through the air, that he earned the nickname ‘The Dream’. He was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, which proves what a genuine legend of the game he truly is.
Olajuwon was, actually, picked first in the 1984 NBA draft, ahead of players such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. The NBA draft is where teams pick new eligible players that come up through the college system or from overseas. The teams have to decide which player they think is going to be the best for their team and who has the most potential. It’s basically a gamble, but it’s smart and strategic gambling because a team’s staff will spend hours covering stats and analyzing a player’s output.
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This player is only twenty-two years old, but he has already made a huge impact in the NBA. Jordan Nwora was born in Buffalo, New York, but his father is Nigerian and the young small-forward chose to play for the Nigerian national basketball team. He stands 6ft 8in tall and plays as a small-forward for the Milwaukee Bucks. He became the third Nigerian to win the NBA Championship this year (the other two being Ezeli and Olajuwon) after the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in an entertaining Play Offs Final.
Nwora has got a tantalizing future ahead of him in the NBA, and those in the know are predicting even bigger things for the player in the coming years. Plus, he was the standout star for D’Tigers at this summer’s Olympics, where he managed to rack up immense stats in all three of Nigeria’s games, which was reported on over at Sports Illustrated.