There’s no question that Kobe Bryant left an indelible mark in the annals of basketball history globally, including being a member of that historic team that set a number of records against the Nigerian basketball team at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
While the world, including fans of the game in Nigeria continue to mourn….well, sort of…the retirement of Bryant from the game, BWB dug up some memorable moments of the Great Black Mamba frozen in time with Nigerian basketball figures.
We initially considered making a piece with the title “Most Mamba Moments” for alliteration and competitive purposes but figured that would be unfair, seeing as either Al-Farouq Aminu, current Blazers forward, or Ime Udoka, a former teammate of Bryant’s and present assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, would win the pseudo contest. That would be really unfair to the other figures on the list; so we came down to a creative option and just thought “Mamba Memories” would suffice.
Well, enjoy the rest of the pictures in case you haven’t yet seen them.
Al-Farouq Aminu is a legit one-on-one defender and an NBA peer to Bryant before the latter’s retirement. For that fact, the 6’9 Nigerian forward was often assigned to guard Bryant whenever his team was going against the Lakers. That includes when he (Aminu) was with the former New Orleans Hornets, Pelicans, and the Portland Trailblazers. During the 2012 Olympic ride, Aminu guarded Bryant a few times even though Derrick Obasohan mostly had that herculean task placed on his shoulders.
Perhaps, Ime Udoka is the only one on this list that has memories taken from different capacities with Kobe Bryant – as a teammate, as an opponent, and as a coach. Maybe we would have to ask him someday how he views Kobe from all three roles. The 6’5 Udoka played with Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers and also squared up against him a number of times when he played for Portland Trailblazers, San Antonio Spurs, and Sacramento Kings. He has also served as a coach in assisting capacity to Head Coach Greg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs, which no doubt gave him the rare opportunity to coach guys against the Mamba.
There’s something legendary about Hakeem Olajuwon besides the fine footprints he carved on the rocks of basketball history – if Michael Jordan and Bryant said it, then it is no doubt true. While we don’t need Jordan’s testament nor Mamba’s echoing of Olajuwon’s greatness to appreciate the Nigerian-born basketball legend, it is, nevertheless, important to put it out there every once in a while. Jordan credits Olajuwon as the best center ever in the history of basketball. Never mind that Jordan never went up against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell; at least he squared up against the behemoths of his own era in Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson. When asked to name the top five toughest players he’s ever faced in his entire twenty-year career, Bryant listed Olajuwon as one of his own most formidable opponents. And even though both players only faced-off a few times before Olajuwon hung his kicks for good, Bryant has worked under the tutelage of Olajuwon on aspects of his game, especially on footwork post-moves – a lethal component of Bryant’s array of skills for so many seasons.
For a few short years, Michael Olowokandi, former NBA player and the number one draft pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, was a neighbour to Bryant at the Staples Center before bouncing around the league. Well, let’s just hope that The Kandi Man, whom Kareem Abdul-Jabbar describes as “talented but uncoachable”, remembers some of those moments.
Festus Ezeli has met Bryant a few times in his career. The 6’9 Nigerian-born center remembers the influence Kobe’s name had on him even before he (Festus) ever picked up a basketball. Shortly before Bryant’s last NBA game of his career, Ezeli penned an emotional open-letter, describing how his peers would shout “Kobe” as they mimicked shooting into imaginary baskets.
Before Ezeli played for the Golden State Warriors, another Nigerian played with the same organization. Ike Diogu spent two seasons with the Warriors and had the task of greeting Bryant at the paint a few times when his team played against Bryant’s Lakers. The two also met at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Chamberlain Oguchi is one of the really great shooters in Nigerian basketball history. He has some of that venomous attribute that makes Bryant really deadly and it is still a surprise he has not gotten a legit shot at the NBA. The 6’5 shooting guard went head-t0-head on the floor against Bryant when the two met at the London 2012 Olympics. There’s no doubt that greatness knows greatness, and Oguchi was one of the few athletes of Nigerian descent that penned a note to express their thoughts when Bryant announced in December 2015 that he would be retiring at the end of the season.
Never mind that they belong to two different basketball generations, but Sani Ahmed, one of the coaches on the D’Tigers roster at the 2012 London Olympics, showed that sports transcends age barriers when he captured a moment with Bryant notwithstanding the heated rivalry between the Nigerian basketball team and the United States team.
The Greek Freak, as he’s fondly called, may have opted to play for Greece despite his Nigerian background; nevertheless, he continues to impress as well as enjoy the admiration of Nigerian basketball fans. Antetokounmpo’s game reached new heights in the 2015/2016 NBA regular season and Bryant was one of the first persons that noticed. When the two met in their last NBA game, Bryant heaped praises on Antetokounmpo’s game to the surprise of the young lad.
Udoka is the youngest of this class, but his superb dominance on the basketball court earned him enough respect to be out there and capture this special moment with Bryant. Let’s hope the young lad and new Kansas Jayhawk caught a hem of Bryant’s garment to enable him imbibe some of that insane work ethic.
Images: gettyimages.com; zimdo, nba pictures