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Presence of Nigerian Players in NBA Basketball Grows Stronger Than Ever

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Nigerian Players in NBA

Nigeria has quietly churned out some of the world’s best basketball talent for nearly four decades. 

Some of the nation’s hardcourt claims-to-fame are homegrown while others are connected through family heritage. Either way, Nigeria’s influence on global basketball and the National Basketball Association (NBA), North America’s top tier in the sport, is at an all-time high.

Nigerian Dominance Begins with a Dream

The history of Nigerians in the NBA traces back to one superstar—Hakeem Olajuwon. The mighty seven-footer from Lagos debuted as the league’s first native African with the Houston Rockets in 1984.

Olajuwon started his athletic career as a soccer goalkeeper, eventually transitioning to basketball at the age of 17.

Despite his relative obscurity, he received an invitation to play basketball in the US with the University of Houston Cougars. Olajuwon’s skills rapidly developed in the American college ranks. By his third season with the Cougars, he had earned the nickname Hakeem “The Dream” for a seemingly effortless style of slam dunking. Fans and the basketball press considered him the best amateur player in the nation.

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Olajuwon’s call to turn pro was answered when the Houston Rockets chose him with their first pick in the 1984 draft. That year, future NBA Hall-of-Famers Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton were drafted behind Olajuwon.

The Dream spent 17 seasons in the NBA between 1984 and 2002. He was awarded the league MVP in 1994 and led the Rockets to consecutive championships in 1994 and 1995. One of the greatest centres of all time, Olajuwon was enshrined in the NBA Hall-of-Fame in 2008.

Nigerians and sports fans across Africa followed The Dream’s career. He grew basketball’s popularity throughout the continent to new heights.

Naturally, Nigeria was the first country targeted by the NBA when its Basketball Without Borders (BWB) program launched in Africa in 2003. BWB is responsible for cultivating the NBA and FIBA brands while developing international talent.

Today, Nigeria’s impact is felt at the very top of basketball. Take Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, for example. Antetokounmpo was born to a Nigerian family that emigrated to Greece from Lagos. Antetokounmpo looms large as one of the NBA’s brightest stars. He is greatly responsible for fueling Milwaukee’s rise to the top of American NBA betting odds and his team’s push into the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.

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NBA Players

Nigeria Celebrated at 2020 NBA Draft

If the signals weren’t already clear, November 28, 2020, proved Nigeria’s influence on the league once and for all. The date marked last year’s NBA draft, an occasion that saw pro teams select eight players of Nigerian heritage.

The Cleveland Cavaliers started the action by selecting Isaac Okoro in the first round with the fifth overall pick. Okoro, a six-foot-six-inch deft ball handler out of Auburn University, was born in the US to Nigerian parents.

Following Okoro, Onyeka Okongwu was chosen by the Atlanta Hawks as the draft’s sixth pick. Okongwu, another US-born prospect of Nigerian heritage, previously played at the University of Southern California.

The Miami Heat plucked University of Memphis standout Precious Achiuwa with the 20th overall pick. He joins four other players of Nigerian heritage on the Heat: Bam Adebayo, Andre Iguodala, Kezie Okpala, and Gabe Vincent.

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Zeke Nnaji (22nd overall), Udoka Azubuike (27th overall), and Desmond Bane (30th overall) completed the first round of Nigeria-connected talent. Nnaji went to the Denver Nuggets, Azubuike was picked up by the Utah Jazz, while Bane currently dons a Memphis Grizzlies uniform.

The selections of Achiuwa and Azubuike mark the first time two Nigerian-born players were taken in the first round.

Nigerians selected in the second round included Daniel Oturu (33rd overall, Los Angeles Clippers) and Jordan Nwora (45th overall, Milwaukee Bucks).

Thirty-seven years after Olajuwon opened the door for Africans to enter the NBA, Nigeria’s sway in basketball’s golden league is stronger than ever.

Efforts such as the BWB program are also responsible for Nigerians developing a love for the game. Current US college basketball players such as Efe Abogidi (Washington State) and Abdul Ado (Mississippi State) ensure Nigeria’s influence will be felt for years to come.

Aduragbemi Omiyale is a journalist with Business Post Nigeria, who has passion for news writing. In her leisure time, she loves to read.

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CAS Reduces Samson Siasia’s Life Ban to 5 Years

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Samson Siasia

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has reduced the life ban of former Nigerian national team coach, Samson Siasia, for a match-fixing affair to five years.

The court ruled that the life ban, imposed by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) in April 2019 after Mr Siaisia was found guilty of agreeing to join a match-fixing ring in 2010, was “disproportionate”.

The CAS ruling upheld the guilty verdict but reduced the length of the ban and set aside the additional fine of 50,000 Swiss francs ($54,000).

In a statement, the Court ruled that “The panel determined the imposition of a life ban to be disproportionate for a first offence which was committed passively and which had not had an adverse or immediate effect on football stakeholders.”

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CAS added that a five-year ban would be placed on the former Super Eagle player, saying that the fine was dropped as the panel felt it would be inappropriate and excessive on top of the ban, noting that Mr Siasia had not benefitted financially and had been hit in the pocket by not being able to work in football.

It wrote, “The imposed fine of CHF 50,000 on Mr Siasia is set aside. The panel determined the imposition of a life ban to be disproportionate for a first offence which was committed passively and which had not had an adverse or immediate effect on football stakeholders, and that a five-year ban would still achieve the envisaged aim of punishing the infringement committed by Mr Siasia.

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“The panel acknowledged the need for sanctions to be sufficiently high enough to eradicate bribery and especially match-fixing in football.

“However, the panel considered in the particular circumstances of this matter that it would be inappropriate and excessive to impose a financial sanction in addition to the five-year ban, since the ban sanction already incorporated a financial punishment in eliminating football as a source of revenue for Mr Siasia, and considering that Mr Siasia had not obtained any gain or pecuniary benefit from his unethical behaviour.”

His suspension from any football-related activity nationally or internationally is backdated to August 16, 2019, and runs until 2024.

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The former striker played 51 times for Nigeria, including at the 1994 World Cup, and won a French Championship medal with Nantes in 1995.

He was the coach of Nigeria between 2010 and 2011 and took the Nigerian U-23 team to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Mr Siasia was caught after a wider investigation involving Mr Wilson Raj Perumal, who confessed to international match-fixing.

Mr Perumal, a Singaporean national, was arrested and jailed in Finland in 2011 for fixing top-tier football games in his country to which he later collaborated with investigators to name others.

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CAF Approves 5,000 Fans for African Champions League Semifinals

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African Champions League Semifinals

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has given the green light that up to 5,000 fans will be allowed to attend Saturday’s African Champions League semifinals in Tunisia and Morocco.

In a statement issued on Friday, the African football body said the decision was arrived at after receiving an application from the host member and approvals from governmental and health authorities of the respective host nations.

Morocco and Tunisia are two countries that have some of the highest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths on the continent.

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Four-time winners Esperance de Tunis host defending champions Al Ahly at the Stade Olympique De Rades, Tunis, while two-time winners Wydad Athletic Club host Kaizer Chiefs at Complexe Mohamed V Stadium, Casablanca.

“CAF has stressed that all medical precautions should be followed at all times in respect to CAF Covid-19 health protocols,” the statement said.

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The return legs are scheduled to take place on June 26.

Prior to Saturday’s games, continental games involving clubs and countries in Africa have been behind closed doors or opened to a limited audience in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Esperance defeated Algeria’s CR Belouizdad in the quarter-finals on a penalty shoot-out after a 2-2 aggregate score. The club will be focused on stopping Egyptian giants Ah Ahly who have won the Champions League for a record nine times.

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The Red Devils stopped Mamelodi Sundowns with a 3-1 aggregate win, which started with a 2-0 victory in the first leg.

Elsewhere in Casablanca, Wydad, who grabbed a late goal to send MC Alger packing with a 2-1 aggregate win in May, will aim to go beyond the semi-final this year when they battle South African giants, Kaizer Chiefs.

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Euro 2020 Kicks-Off Amid COVID-19 Threat (Full Fixtures)

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Euro 2020

By Adedapo Adesanya

Following a year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Euro 2020 will finally kick off on Friday (today), with the virus still a major issue that organisers have to contend with.

Unlike other previous editions of the continent-wide event held in one country or jointly hosted, the tournament would be held across Europe and will be played in front of limited crowds and with strict health restrictions in place.

The tournament, the 16th of its kind, will feature 24 teams – 20 from automatic qualification and the remaining four decided through the play-offs.

It will be held across 11 different cities in Europe, with UEFA celebrating the 60th birthday of the first European Championship (then called the European Nations Cup), which was held in France in 1960.

For the first time in the history of the competition, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be used.

Cities, Stadium, and Capacity

City Stadium Capacity
Amsterdam, Netherlands Johan Cruyff Arena 56,000
Baku, Azerbaijan Olympic Stadium 68,700
Bucharest, Romania Arena Nationala 55,600
Budapest, Hungary Ferenc Puskas Stadium 67,889
Copenhagen, Denmark Parken Stadium 38,065
Glasgow, Scotland Hampden Park 52,063
London, England Wembley Stadium 90,000
Munich, Germany Allianz Arena 75,000
Rome, Italy Stadio Olimpico 72,698
Saint Petersburg, Russia Krestovsky Stadium 68,134
Seville, Spain La Cartuja 60,000

St Petersburg will have a stadium capacity of 50 per cent of fans in attendance, with the number potentially increasing before the tournament start date.

Budapest plans to hold supporters in full capacity, though they will have to comply with strict entry requirements.

Baku will have a stadium capacity of 50 per cent. Fans will be required to provide a negative Covid-19 test before entering Azerbaijan.

Amsterdam, Bucharest, Copenhagen and Glasgow have confirmed a capacity of 25 per cent to 33 per cent. All three cities will potentially increase their capacity by May, based on the success of their vaccine rollout and local COVID-19 situation.

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London will have a minimum capacity of 25 per cent for the three group matches and the round of 16 matches. They are also optimistic about having an increased stadium attendance for both the semi-finals and final.

Munich, Rome, Bilbao, Dublin as at press time are yet to provide additional details on their attendance plans.

Match ball, Mascot, & Slogan

The Uniforia ball, designed by Adidas, will serve as the match ball for all Euro 2020 matches.

The ball is mostly white and includes multi-coloured black strokes with additional blue, neon and pink stripes.

The name of the ball is taken from the combination of the words “unity” and “euphoria”.

Official Song

Dutch DJ Martin Garrix will be performing the tournament’s official song, which will be unveiled at the full opening ceremony in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico.

Matches Schedule

Matchday 1

11 June 2021

Match 1: Turkey vs Italy

Stadio Olympico, Rome, Italy

12 June 2021

Match 2: Wales vs Switzerland

Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan

Match 3: Denmark vs Finland

Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Match 4: Belgium vs Russia

Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia

13 June 2021

Match 5: England vs Croatia

Wembley Stadium, London, England

Match 6: Austria vs North Macedonia

Arena Nationala, Bucharest, Romania

Match 7: Netherlands vs Ukraine

Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands

14 June 2021

Match 8: Scotland vs Czech Republic

Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland

Match 9: Poland vs Slovakia

Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Match 10: Spain vs Sweden

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La Cartuja, Seville, Spain

15 June 2021

Match 11: Hungary vs Portugal

Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary

Match 12: France vs Germany

Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany

Matchday 2

16 June 2021

Match 13: Finland vs Russia

Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Match 14: Turkey vs Wales

Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan

Match 15: Italy vs Switzerland

Stadio Olympico, Rome, Italy

17 June 2021

Match 16: Ukraine vs North Macedonia

Arena Nationala, Bucharest, Romania

Match 17: Denmark vs Belgium

Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Match 18: Netherlands vs Austria

Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands

18 June 2021

Match 19: Sweden vs Slovakia

Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Match 20: Croatia vs Czech Republic

Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland

Match 21: England vs Scotland

Wembley Stadium, London, England

19 June 2021

Match 22: Hungary vs France

Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary

Match 23: Portugal vs Germany

Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany

Match 24: Spain vs Poland

La Cartuja, Seville, Spain

Matchday 3

20 June 2021

Match 25: Italy vs Wales

Stadio Olympico, Rome, Italy

Match 26: Switzerland vs Turkey

Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan

21 June 2021

Match 27: Ukraine vs Austria

Stadio Olympico, Rome, Italy

Match 28: North Macedonia vs Netherlands

Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Match 29: Russia vs Denmark

Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Match 30: Finland vs Belgium

Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia

22 June 2021

Match 31: Croatia vs Scotland

Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland

Match 32: Czech Republic vs England

Wembley Stadium, London, England

23 June 2021

Match 33: Sweden vs Poland

Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Match 34: Slovakia vs Spain

La Cartuja, Seville, Spain

Match 35: Portugal vs France

Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary

Match 36: Germany vs Hungary

Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany

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ROUND OF 16

26 June 2021

Round of 16 tie 1: Runner-up Group A vs Runner-up Group B

Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Round of 16 tie 2: Winner Group A vs Runner-up Group C

8pm

Wembley Stadium, London, England

27 June 2021

Round of 16 tie 3: Winner Group C vs 3rd Group D/E/F

Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary

Round of 16 tie 4: Winner Group B vs 3rd Group A/D/E/F

San Mames, Bilbao, Spain

28 June 2021

Round of 16 tie 5: Runner-up Group D vs Runner-up Group E

Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Round of 16 tie 6: Winner Group F vs 3rd Group A/B/C

Arena Nationala, Bucharest, Romania

29 June 2021

Round of 16 tie 7: Winner Group D vs Runner-up Group F

Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Round of 16 tie 8: Winner Group E vs 3rd Group A/B/C/D

Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland.

QUARTER-FINALS

2 July 2021

Quarter-final 1: Round of 16 tie 6 winner vs Round of 16 tie 5 winner

Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Quarter-final 2: Round of 16 tie 4 winner vs Round of 16 tie 2 winner

Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany.

3 July 2021

Quarter-final 3: Round of 16 tie 3 winner vs Round of 16 tie 1 winner

Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan.

Quarter-final 4: Round of 16 tie 8 winner vs Round of 16 tie 7 winner

Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy.

SEMI-FINALS

July 6 2021

Semi-final 1: Quarter-final 2 winner vs Quarter-final 1 winner

Wembley Stadium, London, England.

July 7 2021

Semi-final 2: Quarter-final 4 winner vs Quarter-final 3 winner

Wembley Stadium, London, England.

FINAL

July 11 2021

Final: Semi-final 1 winner vs Semi-final 2 winner

Wembley Stadium, London, England.

The action kicks off tonight at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, where Italy take on Turkey in front of 16,000 fans.

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