Ex-NBA players Hakeem Olajuwon, Obinna Ekezie join youth engagement initiative


tipoffHakeem Olajuwon, fellow countryman and former NBA player Obinna Ekezie and WNBA champion Swin Cash have joined with the NBA, WNBA, Africare and ExxonMobil to announce the launch of Power Forward, a youth engagement initiative that will use basketball to develop health, leadership and life skills, NBA.com reported.

The program is being introduced at 10 public and private high schools in Abuja, Nigeria, and will engage 300 students, evenly divided between boys and girls.

Nigeria ‘s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, NBA Vice President, Development  for Africa, Amadou Fall , President of Africare, Darius Mans and Managing Director Exxon Mobi, Mark Ward, were some of dignitaries at the ground breaking initiative.

“Young people are the future of our country,” said Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Nigerian Minister of Sports and Supervising Minister for Youth Development. “The Power Forward initiative will teach young Nigerians teamwork, communication and persistence—the same skills they need to grow into future leaders in their communities.”

“Nigeria’s vibrant youth and sports culture makes the country an ideal place to launch this new initiative to equip tomorrow’s leaders with the skills they’ll need to thrive,” said Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Vice President, Development – Africa.

“The NBA and WNBA are committed to working with our partners across Africa to use the power of basketball to positively impact social change. Together with ExxonMobil and Africare, we will promote the core values of our game to help young people learn how to succeed both on and off the court.”

Olajuwon, Ekezie and Cash joined 100 youth participants on the court for a series of basketball drills. Basketball is Nigeria’s second-most popular sport with increased interest at the grass-roots level, following the national team’s first-ever qualification for the 2012 Olympics.

More than 20 current and former players with Nigerian descent have played in the NBA, more than any other African country.

Many years before he became mentor to the stars, teaching the fine art of his post moves to the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard (among others), a young Hakeem Olajuwon was a Nigerian student who found answers on the basketball court.

“The game was introduced at my school and I learned it from scratch,” Olajuwon said. “I learned about the rules and how to play basketball and I also learned about work ethic, teamwork and communication. Those are tools that are part of a successful life in or out of sports.”

“When I was growing up, I knew nothing about the NBA,” Olajuwon said. “We couldn’t see games. They weren’t on TV. My goal in playing basketball was to get a scholarship to attend college in America and the rest of my professional career just happened.”

“These kids today are from a different generation. They didn’t know me from personal experience. But they did their homework on the Internet. I was surprised to know how much they learned,” he said.

“They are full of energy and enthusiasm and the goal of the Power Forward program is take that energy and channel it into ways that can make productive lives. This is a way that politicians, corporations and educators can unite to get the most out of the next generation,” he said.

Hakeem Olajuwon established himself as an unusually skilled offensive player for a big man, perfecting a set of fakes and spin moves that became known as his trademark Dream Shake.

He led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. In 2008, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Olajuwon is a 12-time NBA All-Star, and has been named the 1994 NBA MVP.

He is considered one of the greatest centers ever to play the game. Some say, he was the best. Olajuwon played in 1238 NBA games (1186 started), averaging 21.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg and 3.1 bpg in 35.7 minutes of action.

Obinna Ekezie, a 6-9, 270 pound forward, also from Nigeria, played 5 seasons in the NBA, for Vancouver Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers and Atlanta Hawks.

Ekezie averaged career-high 5.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg for Atlanta in his final season (2004-05). He played a total of 143 NBA games (32 started), averaging 3.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg in 10.6 mpg.


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