At the moment, the only recognizable NBA guard with African roots is Victor Oladipo. Luc Mbah a Moute and Luol Deng are considered small forwards and players like Serge Ibaka and Jahlil Okafor are considered big men. If you pay attention to the league, you start to notice a trend of the type of players that come out of the continent, which are basically just big men. I remember as a young high schooler with NBA dreams and I looked around the NBA and realized that the only representation of African players were players over seven feet tall (i.e. Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeen Olajuwon) - I never had a chance of getting to that height. Both Hakeem and Dikembe are great players in their own right but none I could identify with as a basketball player. Prior to the NBA draft in 2013, Victor Oladipo's name started gaining some notoriety during March Madness and he was being considered a top overall draft pick. I became fascinated with the idea of having a top tier NBA guard from Nigeria and what that means for the game across the continent. The drafting of Victor Oladipo as the second overall selection in 2013 is one of the most important moments in NBA draft history and should be promoted as such across the continent of Africa.
Victor Oladipo was born on May 4, 1992 in Upper Malboro, Maryland, United States. He attended Indiana University and was drafted second overall in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft. Coming out of an academic home with his mother as a nurse and father as a public health official, he was restricted in his pursuit of basketball. Like many young Nigerians, education comes first and there is a restriction on pursuing creative interests and turning it into a professional career. During the draft period of 2013, I followed along on his journey to being the second overall pick and he was very open about the restrictions on playing sports in his household. I also experienced those restrictions, which made sense because I never was going to make it to the NBA. However, at 6ft 4inches, Victor being selected that high and considered elite is a significant moment that I think many sports fans will realize after his playing career.
Football is still the most popular sport among the citizens of the continent. Basketball is popular among some nations, notably Angola, but it is still not part of the sports fabric in the continent. Those that reside in the continent are aware of players like Olajuwon but there is a lack of promotion that I believe Oladipo should be receiving because of the fact that he is not 7-ft tall and that is more likely to resonate with more up and coming talent from across the continent. While, he may not go down as the greatest shooting guard the league has ever seen, he does usher in possibilities for young African basketball fans who one day would like to make the NBA. I wonder if he has thought about what he means to the game from this standpoint because I wish there was a player like him when I was growing up that I could better identify with in the league.
I have argued above that Oladipo is more important to the sport than we collectively realize because of his connection to Africa and being an elite level guard in the league. Oladipo is a representative for several brands and these brands should note his significance to the game across the continent and promote him as such going forward. NBA Basketball Without Borders should have him as an Ambassador and highlight the achievement of being a guard with African roots. I have yet to see him marketed this way to the broader African continent that may not necessarily follow basketball, but it should be done in order to establish basketball as a viable alternative to football for those pursuing professional athletic careers. Lastly, I think the country of Nigeria should also recognize his significance of him in the league as practically the only visible guard with a Nigerian background.