A curious 12-year-old boy in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, heard about a basketball camp in his town and thought it was worth checking out.
He reached out to participate in on-court drills to better learn the game and gain some life skills in off-court programs.
On Sunday, that boy will take to the Scotiabank Arena court on a night dedicated to the foundation that ran that camp and to the memory of an African icon, fully aware that the first opportunities given him played an important role in becoming. in NBA player. .
Precious Achiuwa will also be grateful for the start the Giants of Africa Foundation gave her.
“It was huge, Achiuwa said this week. “Now to see that that camp is represented at the highest level of basketball in the world is great.”
Giants of Africa is one of the great legacies created by Raptors president and vice president Masai Ujiri and this weekend’s celebration and memory of social justice champion Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, is one of its pivotal events each year. .
It will be the ninth time the Raptors have played a home game on December 5, the anniversary of Mandela’s passing in 2013, and it marks a special weekend for the franchise. There will be a gala fundraising luncheon before the Raptors play the Washington Wizards at 6 p.m. and moments of recognition from the foundation and Mandela during Sunday’s game, followed by school visits and social justice initiatives on Monday.
“Mandela is like the Martin Luther King of Africa,” Achiuwa said. “He fought for civil rights, he fought oppression, he fought for people to express themselves, just be who they are. He stood up for all the right things. “
When Ujiri re-signed with the Raptors last summer, it was in part because of the platform the franchise and the city provide to him and his charities. This weekend is one of the most public.
“Off the pitch, the work continues,” Ujiri said in a team-produced video announcing his return in early August. “(The) fight for equality in the work of the justice system; to prevent children from becoming child soldiers, to grow the game in Africa and build the infrastructure there so that children can have a place to play, to dream their dreams; to ensure that young women and young girls are valued and included. These are global goals. Toronto is a global city. You give me the strength and inspiration to achieve that. “
And for Achiuwa, there is a direct link from the past to the present.
After that original camp, he played at two high schools in the United States before attending the University of Memphis, where he performed well enough in one season to be selected 20th by the Miami Heat in the NBA draft. 2020 NBA.
His raw skills were definitely refined once he came to the U.S. as a teenager, but the African Giants camp and the NBA Basketball Without Borders program, another initiative Ujiri is heavily involved in, gave him his start.
“Man, Masai has done a lot for the culture of Nigeria and the African continent when it comes to basketball, developing the game and giving people a lot of opportunities to get acquainted with the game,” Achiuwa said after this week’s practice.
That is one of the principles of Ujiri’s founding: to provide opportunities where there were few before.
“I think the talent is there. It’s just that the opportunity isn’t to the degree that it’s on this side of the world, ”Achiuwa said in an interview last summer, after the Raptors landed him and Miami’s Goran Dragić in a signing and trade for Kyle. Lowry. “I think the way basketball is improving on the African continent is really great because there are a lot of kids who are really talented like me: athletic, they can play, they are great, they jump high …
“I am very happy that (Ujiri) is pushing that agenda and creating many opportunities at home on the African continent, so that they can improve themselves, and not only themselves, but their families, the neighborhood where they are from and the country and the continent as a whole “.
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