For many, 2012 was just another year in the calendar but for sports fans like myself, it was a very special year.
The Olympic year in London was hyped because, not only was Team GB was allowed to play in the Olympic basketball but, it was the year an African team represented in London… well at least at the opening ceremony. The Nigerian squad came out blazing in their original attire and danced their way from the beginning to the end and made all Africans in the UK super proud. Forget Ghana, Kenya, and all the rest, Nigeria stole the show if I am completely honest.
Nigerian in particular wanted to set an agenda and put African basketball on the global stage.
But it was also the year, where I was recruited to produce the Olympic and Paralympic basketball. 12 teams were competing for a chance to make it to the finals. Out of 12 teams, we had two African teams representing the continent: Tunisia and Nigeria which was competing in the 2012 Olympic games in London for the very first time in Nigeria basketball history. Not only was it the country’s first time participating in the Olympics but it was also the first time two African basketball teams have ever participated in the Olympics simultaneously.
Having two African teams in the summer Olympics in London was something special and Nigerian in particular wanted to set an agenda and put African basketball on the global stage. On paper, the Nigerian team has some of the best basketball players in the leagues from around the world with a list of big names and impact players you can imagine. The Olympics kicked off to a great start. The arenas were one of the best places to be during the games. The atmosphere was always overly hyped, with crowds singing Oasis to D’banj (Oliver Twist). In fact, Afrobeat had taken over the o2 Arena with me producing and Eddie Kadi presenting. Africa was streets ahead with the fans falling in love with the sounds and our culture. I was proud to walk out every day to produce the games and throw down the Afrobeat every single time.
Basketball plays second fiddle to football on the continent of Africa even though African basketball players are recognised globally.
Then the games began and Nigeria had played three games, won one and we still had one game to go. But before we talk about the famous Nigeria versus USA game, I want to take you back to the history of Nigerian basketball and why no matter what happened during game five, Nigeria was still the giants of basketball on the continent of Africa and why going forward to Rio 2016 is important to us all.
Nigeria joined FIBA in 1964 and they have participated in the FIBA Africa championships 15 times since then wining medals and currently, enjoyed more success by winning the FIBA AfroBasket in Tunisia 2015, which qualified them for the Rio 2016. But all this was achieved with little support and little financial backing because once again, basketball plays second fiddle to football on the continent of Africa even though African basketball players are recognised globally.
In 2011, Chamberlain Oguchi, Nigerian-American international basketball player and longtime player for Nigeria’s national basketball team decided to document the journey of the Nigerian national basketball team along with 11 other charismatic Nigerian players.
The issues that African teams face when they are put on the world stage are real.
Playing for a national team comes with it challenges that many fail to see or recognise and the Nigerian national team was no different. Preparing for the Olympics is for many the biggest thing that will ever happen and in some countries investment in the national team is never in doubt. They are looked after. Nigeria’s journey wasn’t so easy. With the team sometimes not having a place to practices, lights going off in the gyms, hotels not booked or flights not fully paid for, the struggle was real. Speaking Chamberlain Oguchi simply known by his teammates as ‘Champ’ he said ‘It was frustrating, of course it was frustrating but as a group, we decided to put all that aside and focus on the task at hand and I think it is a testament to our commitment to our goals for the national team.’
The issues that African teams face when they are put on the world stage are real. This is not to make the world feel sorry for us, but to force decision makers to recognise the success they could have if they simply focus and invest in the good and possibly inspire a generation of grassroots players who will commit to their nations one day when they become established athletes. The current generation of athletes can sometimes feel disillusioned with government and decision-makers’ commitment to other sports apart from basketball. Speaking to Champ, he was passionate about what needed to change but also how they, the basketball national team, can control and slowly change the mindset of Nigeria.
Here’s hoping that the government and the people to put us on the same pedestal they put the Super Eagles.
‘Our mindset is to control only what we can control. But what we try to do is to be more hands on in terms of being in Nigeria and allowing the people of Nigeria to see us make history and continue to dominate and hoping for things to change. Here’s hoping that the government and the people to put us on the same pedestal they put the Super Eagles. No disrespect to them but this is bigger than just basketball.’
Through the journey, Chamberlain Oguchi – Olympian, 2015 Afrobasket MVP, 2015 Afrobasket All-Star, 2015 Afrobasket three-point champion and 2016 Olympics point guard and the master of command for the Nigerian national team produced a four-part reality documentary that really shares with you the ups and downs of an African team trying to rewrite history with little to go on. The documentary really explores that culture, the sport, the challenges but also the commitment these athletes have to changing the face of not just Nigeria but also of the continent on the world stage. For someone like me, who has spent many years working with and around athletes, it is hard to get athletes to commit to doing a documentary that really shows their lifestyle, their true personalities and ultimately their lives for the rest of the world to see.
Chamberlain through his documentary really shows this and explains why it was so important for him to get these athletes to open up and hopefully change the perception people have of African athletes and hopefully inspire the decision makers to really sit up and listen to what can be achieved with their support. Because this is bigger than just basketball, it brings communities together especially coming from Nigeria where tribal and religious wars are part of their history.
‘As we got ready for the AfroBasket, I looked around and realised that we have a brand new group of guys and I knew it was going to be a really special group of people for this team and I wanted to capture that. Regardless of what religion and culture we came from, we had all come together for one common purpose and that was to create history for Nigeria as a whole. That was the inspiration behind the documentary.’
The momentum of a historic Olympic run was cut short by an embarrassing meeting with the USA. ‘It was embarrassing. It was an embarrassing loss and it will forever haunt me and all the other players. But USA played a fantastic game and we played the worst game we could possibly play. Maybe some guys were nervous but credit to the USA, they were breaking all records on that night.’
The Olympic experience in London had come to a crushing end for Nigeria. As an African working at the Olympics on the night of the game, I found myself sat on the floor as a producer with my head in my hands. I was embarrassed for the team but also hopeful in knowing that, this is not the end for African basketball. If this kind of beating doesn’t motivate you to do better, then what’s the point? As hard as it is still to talk about London 2012, I asked Champ about what the impact of losing to the USA was and if it was the motivating factor for their success in Tunisia and going to Rio this summer.
‘Absolutely, London 2012 was a big motivating force for us because we realised that, we have knocked off some of the best teams in the world to qualify for the Olympics but yet we go to the Olympics and we seem to be out matched by teams we were possibly better than. That was our wake-up call. We knew we would get another shot at this and we would do things very differently.’
Fast-forward two years: Nigeria had a pivotal opportunity to right their wrongs in the 2015 African Continental Championships in Tunis, Tunisia. They sought to achieve what everyone thought was impossible by capturing the AfroBasket title for the first time in Nigerian basketball history while securing an automatic bid to the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. After a crushing London 2012, this was a welcome high for Nigeria and most importantly, the rest of West Africa;
‘It was incredible. Until this day, I don’t think I have experienced a moment like that in life because I feel that I have overcome a lot in my basketball career. So, to have won AfroBasket MVP, three-point champion and then leading my team to getting the gold for the first time in Nigeria’s history… It was amazing.’
After the historic win in Tunisia, most basketball followers and lovers asked the question everyone had being dying to ask: will more established Nigerian NBA players be joining the team for Rio 2016? Given big names like Festus Ezeli, Victor Oladipo, Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo were originally named on the Rio 2016 invitational list for the Nigerian national team summer, could things be changing for the better? But before that question could be answered, the Antetokounmpo brothers announced their commitment to Greece.
‘I believe that the more high-level players show they are dedicated to Nigeria basketball, the more the government and people will take notice. We want to show that, we are trying to build something here. With the success of the team at AfroBasket, I think it will definitely attract more established players. I believe coach has some tough decisions to make ahead of the summer and the best 12 will be in Rio this summer.’
When Victor Oladipo didn’t chose Nigeria as his first choice for Rio 2016, Champ said, ‘That’s his decision but obviously, I would have loved for him to acknowledge his country before the USA because I would love to suit up alongside him but it’s his career and his decision. That’s on him.’
He has also interviewed international sports stars such as Venus Williams, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Luol Deng, Marc Gasol, and Pau Gasol.
Being apart of this historic team has been amazing to say the least for Chamberlain Oguchi. It has been so much of a remarkable experience that he wanted to share it with the world as an inspiration to younger generations as well as for the advancement of Africa’s inadequate athletic agenda. While partaking in these once-in-a-lifetime events, he kept a video diary documenting his journey from start to finish. From the on-the-court battles, to their off-the-court adventures throughout the Olympic Village, to their many interactions with various athletes and fans around the world, to the drama that unfolded within the team, he captured it all. Along with daily interviews from his teammates and coaches, he has also interviewed international sports stars such as Venus Williams, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Luol Deng, Marc Gasol, and Pau Gasol. Champ’s vision is to depict the rise, fall, and ascension of Nigerian basketball over the past four years but also to rewrite the history of African basketball by the goals they have set for themselves this summer ahead of the Rio 2016 olympics;
‘We are going to Rio 2016 to win a medal. That is our goal. That’s been our goal since we came together in 2012. We wanted to win a medal. We are still working towards that goal. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but that is our goal and we are going to do everything we can to do it.’
Whatever the outcome is this summer, the Nigerian national basketball team have created the buzz and made the rest of the world sit up and pay attention even if Nigeria itself is not paying attention. This summer is a big deal for the boys and with Chamberlain leading the team to Rio, we can only expect more success on and off the court when it comes to putting African sport on the world stage.
The documentary is listed below and please be sure to follow Champ over the summer to keep up to date with this historic team making Africa proud.