The Chief Executive Officer, NBA Africa, Victor Williams, has lauded “Power Forward”, a youth-building initiative that persistently uses basketball as a convenient platform to teach children about development literacy, public health and leadership.
Williams said on Friday at a programme live-streamed on NBA Africa YouTube, that he was excited to see that through the values of basketball, the Power Forward initiative had continued to make a positive impact among the youth and their communities.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the initiative was launched in 2013 by the ExxonMobil Foundation, the NBA and Africare.
The aim of the foundation is to use basketball to teach health literacy, including malaria prevention and personal hygiene, and life skills, such as leadership, respect and responsibility to students in 30 secondary schools in Abuja.
This initiative, currently in its 7th year, had two-time NBA All-Star, Victor Oladipo and 2015 NBA Champion, Festus Ezeli, headline the first virtual Power Forward Huddle which was live-streamed on NBA Africa YouTube.
The event, hosted by TV and radio host Jimmie Akinsola, celebrated seven years of the Power Forward programme for youth aged 14 and under and coaches from 30 schools in Abuja.
“Throughout the past seven years, Power Forward has reached more than 80 thousand people in local communities through public health awareness, malaria prevention and the game of basketball.
“Nearly 30,000 people have attended their community event, including the annual power forward finals for the boys and girls’ leagues, which unfortunately we are unable to host this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our students have been mentored by and engaged with some of the biggest names in our game, including legends like Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon, Olumide Oyedeji and Festus Ezeli, “ he said.
He added: “I am proud, especially of the important initiatives that took place off the court, such as engaging our youth and local communities by observing World Malaria Day, World Menstrual Hygiene Day, World Environment Day, World Hand-Washing Day and the World AIDS Day.
“As part of Power Forward, the ExxonMobil Foundation, the NBA, Africare, donated 30,000 masks, sanitisers and new hand-washing stations to the 30 participating schools.
“Although we will not be able to host our annual power forward finals at the Mashood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja as in previous years, it is exciting that we are celebrating the 7th year virtually.“
Two NBA stars, Victor Oladipo and Festus Ezeli also spoke about the role basketball played in their lives, the values of the game and credited their Nigerian upbringing for the successes on and off the court.
Oladipo is a two-time NBA All-Star who currently plays for the Indiana Pacers, while Ezeli won the NBA Championship with the Golden State Warriors in 2015.
He helped the Warriors win a record of 73 games in the regular season, surpassing the previous record set by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1995/1996 season.
Oladipo thanked his family for the way he was brought up in a Nigerian household for his academic and sports success.
He said: “Coming from a Nigerian household and Nigerian parents, they are really big on academics. Originally, playing the sport was kind of different in my household.
“In my three years at Indiana, I was taking extra classes during summertime so I could graduate early. I still had a dream and the ability to go to the NBA Draft early, a year early.
“I credit definitely my culture, I credit definitely my parents and the way I was brought up for my ability on and off the court.
“That is just the Nigerian way, it is academics first and basketball later. That is how it was growing up, so, I had to make sure that I follow that plan.”
Ezeli on the other hand recalled his visit to Nigeria last year after a decade and a half abroad, when he also took part in the 6th Power Forward finals at the Abuja stadium.
“I have gone for 15 years. I left my home, I left my family, it was just me when I came to America. And coming back after all this time, a lot of inches taller, it was a very emotional time.
“You know it’s always good to be home. Nigeria is always home. Granted that America is my home now, but when I went back, it was this feeling like: man, I’m home.
“These are my people, and seeing my family and everybody, it’s kind of reminded me of my purpose. When I left Nigeria I said I was not going to come back unless I have something to contribute until I accomplished something.
“And making it to the NBA was accomplishing something, but I want to do more and I want to do more for Nigeria myself. So, I’m excited about the future,” a visibly happy Ezeli said. (NAN)