Walid Zabadne brought basketball to Nigeria in the 1950’s, by teaching the game to the local youngsters on the only basketball court in the country. After many years of touring the country and spreading awareness of the sport, basketball became mainstream. Nigeria’s national basketball team finally joined the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) in 1964.
The NBA’s roster is no stranger to overseas talent and over the years several Nigerians have played in the prestigious league. Nigerian players found their way into the NBA in 1994 with two players, Yinka Dare and Julius Nwosu debuting. Over the intervening years, Nigerian players have been prominent on the international scene with a total of sixteen individuals making it to the NBA.
Former Nigerians that have played in the NBA:
Below you will find a list of all of the Nigerian professional basketball players that have played in the NBA. Listed in order of their debut performance:
- Julius Nwosu (1994 – 1995)
- Yinka Dare (1994 – 1998)
- Michael Olowokandi (1998 – 2007)
- Peter Aluma (1999)
- Obinna Ekezie (1999 – 2002/2005)
- Olumide Oyedeji (2000 – 2003)
- Ime Udoka (2004/2006 – 2011)
- Ike Diogu (2005 – 2009/2010 – 2012)
- Kelenna Azubuike (2007 – 2011/2012)
- Solomon Alabi (2010 – 2012)
- Gani Lawal (2010 – 2011)
- Al-Farouq Aminu (2010 – Present)
- Ben Uzoh (2010 – 2011/2012)
- Festus Ezeli (2012 – Present)
- Josh Akognon (2013)
- Michael Gbinije (2016 – Present)
Active Nigerian players in the NBA:
As of this moment there are three active Nigerian players in the NBA.
- Al-Farouq Aminu – American born but descended from Nigerian kings, Al-Farouq Aminu has been playing basketball for a good percentage of his life. Playing throughout high-school and college Aminu debuted in the NBA in 2010 playing for the Los Angeles Clippers. A year later Aminu was traded to the New Orleans Hornets where he played for the next 3 years until signing a deal with the Dallas Mavericks. During this time Aminu competed in the 2012 Olympics as part of the Nigerian national basketball team. In 2015 Nigeria competed in and won the FIBA Africa Championship with Aminu being named in the All-star 5 of the tournament. Later that year he signed a 30 million dollar contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. He continues to play with them today.
- Festus Ezeli – Early life in Nigeria had convinced Ezeli that he was going to be a physician when he was older. He worked hard at school and graduated at the young age of 14. His parents sent him to live with his Uncle, a Doctor living in the US. Naturally for a 6’8 teenager living in the states he soon discovered basketball. It wasn’t plain sailing from there however. Ezeli had never played any organized sports before and found learning basketball quite difficult. He stuck with it and after joining Vanderbilt University played his debut game for them in 2008. Ezeli’s NBA career has been marred by injury. Signing his first Rookie Contract in 2012 for the Golden State Warriors it was less than a year later that an operation on his right knee had him sitting out the entire 2013-2014 season. In July of 2016 Ezeli signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, but again injury struck him. Two months later he was ruled out for six weeks after an injection in his left knee, and further complications had him benched throughout the 2016-2017 season. His NBA career might be over.
- Michael Gbinije – American born Michael Gbinije is the latest in a long line of Nigerians to play in the NBA. In 2015 he played with the Nigerian national basketball team taking home the gold in the FIBA Africa Championship. Gbinije also helped the Nigerian team qualify for the 2016 summer Olympics. After an impressive high-school and college career Gbinije signed with the Detroit Pistons where he remains to this day often on assignment to the Grand Rapids Drive – The Pistons D league affiliate.