Pardon the question, but do you enjoy basketball?
I know it's not a popular game in Ghana, but if you are connected to the internet, you can always catch up with the latest games by going to www.youtube.com
and searching for “NBA highlights today”.
There is so much basketball there that you have to be careful to select only games that were played a few hours/days ago, as otherwise, you might be taken to a game that was played in “nineteen-kwadwo-one” (years/months ago!)
Although the NBA is played only in America, it is currently of great interest to Africa, because two of the very best players are of African descent. By that I don't mean just the host of African-Americans whose excellence in the game is its most notable feature and who are, of course, of “African descent”.
No – I mean two guys – Joel Embidd, who was born in Yaounde, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was born in Greece but has Nigerian parentage. Giannis was the “Most Valued Player” in the season preceding the current one and has been taking his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, to places again this season.
So good is he that even American sports commentators, who are notoriously incapable of pronouncing foreign names, have learnt to call him ANTETOKOUNMPO instead of simply “Giannis”! He is basically blazing the same trail as Hakeem Olajuwon – the Nigerian player who earned respect for African players, by dominating the NBA between 1984 and 2002, when he helped win several trophies for the Houston Rockets.
Joel Embidd plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, who are striving, with him at its helm [of talent], to excel in the NBA Finals this season. He is likely to be crowned the “Most Valuable Player” (MVP) of the 76ers if they emerge victorious. (Antetokounmpo won it in the previous season.)
Why don't we in Ghana take basketball seriously? Well, to begin with, out populace is largely made up of “shorttee” people, whereas to be good at basketball, it is an advantage to be at least six feet tall. Many of the greatest players in the USA are just under seven feet tall!
But it5 isn't enough to be tall if one is to excel in basketball. One also needs to be heavily built, so that one cannot be easily pried away from the “basket” when one is making one's way to place the ball in it. It i9s a very physical game in other respects too: one must not be easily pushed down; not must one be unable to steer a clear course on the court just because one's opponents are
carrying out all sorts of manouvre4s to try and prevent one from gaining a foothold from which to try to score a “field goal”, or pass the ball to a team-mate who is better placed to score with it.
It is lovely to see the miraculous way the human body can be used to play this game. One can get injured by falling hard on the floor, slipping, or being deliberately “body-butted” by an opponent who does not care if his side is punished for a foul he commits. Yet the tremendous courage of the players shines through most of the time.
Above all, it is easy for the spectator/TV viewer to identify with the players: if you see a true devotee scoring “three-pointers” (goals that bring in three points) from his arm-chair, you might commit the irreverence of laughing at him. For yes, practically everyone can carry himself/herself on to the basketball court through the imagination, and carry out feats which the actual players can never achieve on the court!
The game of basketball reminds me of a very funny story told to me about the early years of Ghana's independence. We ad been admitted to the United Nations, and our diplomats were out there, using photo opportunities to publicise the arrival of Ghana as one of the very few black nations involved in solving the world's problems.
Our diplomats at the UN came by the brilliant idea that to emphasise the fact that there was gender “equality” in Ghana, it would be a good idea to include women in our delegations to the UN. But, of course, it cost money to send people to New York, so what out diplomats did was to keep an ear on the ground, and whenever they heard that some Ghanaians had come to New York on their own, they would invite the ladies among them to come and occupy some of Ghana's seats at the UN.
This went on for some time, and gained Ghana quite a lot of plaudits. As it happened, a dance troupe with some very beautiful women went to New York, on their own, to dance at the famous Alvin Alley dance theatre.
No sooner than the Ghana delegation at the UN saw them than they enrolled them into the delegation (as usual).
Now, the Ghanaian dancers, of course, became quite popular in black celebrity circles in New York, and they got invitations to parties and dinners very often. On one occasion, one the most beautiful women among the Ghanaian dancers was taken “on a date” by a very popular basketball player.
Meanwhile, the Ghana delegates at the UN had arranged an event for the dancers. Yet when the time arrived, the prima dona amongst them was nowhere to be found! They decided to go to the function without her.
But the function had hardly begun when the front-door bell of the location rang.
One of the diplomats left to go and see who it was.
When he opened the door, he saw the prima dona standing there.
In her company stood – a seven-foot-tall star basketball player.
The diplomat was so taken aback that all he could find to say was to stammer to the basketball star, “B-b-but you c-c-c-c-an't j-j-just take our g-gigirls out like that?”
As it happened, the diplomat was just above five feet tall. So when the seven-foot-tall basket-ball looked down at him, it looked as if the star could throw the diplomat half-way across Manhattan!
The prima dona, fearing that a “diplomatic incident”
might occur, quickly made her way to stand between the two men!
When the prima donarecounted this story to me years later, we laughed and laughed and laughed. I joked that I would write an article, advising our Government to think carefully about sending diplomats who are somewhat challenged in the height stakes, to places where they might be tempted to defend the virtue of their female guests, against seven-foot-tall “giants” bred for the basketball court!