By Col Sam Ahmedu
The President of FIBA Africa Zone 3 and Founder of the Dodan Warriors Basketball Team, Col Sam Ahmedu wrote this heartfelt tribute to legendary coach and grandfather of Nigeria basketball, Coach Oliver Johnson (OBJ) to celebrate his birthday.
A lot of my friends have their birthdays today. Of the lot, one person`s birthday stands out. Stand and be recognized Coach Oliver Johnson, my mentor in every facet.
Coach, glory be to God that since that historical day in 1969 or thereabout when I met you in Dodan Barracks for the first time, while you were on transit from Nairobi to the US, you have never wavered in your love and commitment to basketball. We miss your Chicago Bears American Football Jersey with the number 80 – 80. We miss your slangs; “huzzle back, huzzle back”, though at that time we thought you were saying “Castle back, Castle back”.
We miss the NBA pre-recorded games you use to take us to watch at the USIS, Broad Street, Lagos, in 1973. I remember vividly the 1970 NBA Finals where Willis Reed led the likes of Bill Bradley ( later Senator) and the New York Knicks to victory for the NBA title, injured foot and all and was nicknamed “Captain, my Captain”.
You have done great things like bringing Kareem Abdul Jabber (Lew Alcindor) and Oscar “The Big O” Robertson and the Sports Ambassadors with Eldridge Brussard, the Wheaton College Alumni and Big Centre Scott Magnusson to Nigeria. Those of us who saw them live can never forget those memories.
We miss the Junior National Camp in Ife in 1974 when everyone was on their toes when it became clear you were on your way to take charge of the Camp. I remember Coach Oscar Yala Yala`s words”; OBJ is around and so the first selection is canceled; he can change you, he can change you”. I was among those dropped. In my case, I was too small.
We met again years later in ABU, Zaria where you taught us the Technical benefits of keeping statistics, creating dinosaurs like Tari Preh, Musa Kida, TJ Ahmed of Kano ( Emir of Samaru), Scott Nnaji, Bello Ajibarede, Adamu Ibrahim, Athanasius Tyoden and yours sincerely, among others.
I remember the 2 days road trip you and I took in your FGN numbered Beatle car from Zaria to Lagos for NUGA 1978, during which we had a stopover in Challenge Area in Ibadan where we met the great Archie Moore, the American boxing legend who gave us a round by round account of his fight with the great Muhammed Ali some years back. We eventually got to Lagos via the Lagos – Ibadan Express Way which was still under construction.
Under your tutelage supported by Jonathan Chagu, ABU won a lot of Laurels. In my time it was 3 NUGA Medals in addition to many National laurels whiles, competing for Kaduna State as well.
Add the exchange program with Richard Green of Crown Heights Collective Inc, which the ABU Male and Female teams benefitted from after I had graduated, your legacy in basketball and the impression you have left in our lives can never be forgotten.
You were indeed a mentor to us all and it is not a surprise that Masai Ujiri, one of your little protégé from “Jean`s Club”, has grown up to be the GM of the Toronto Raptors, one of the top teams in the NBA. A great achievement by all standards.
And as a pioneer author of Nigerian basketball, a trait which I copied by writing my own book on Nigerian basketball after yours, you a have always blazed the trail. And with Basketball for Peace ( BB4P), your present pet project which is taking the game to all nooks and corners of Nigeria, you have established another legacy for our generation.
Dear Coach Oliver Johnson, I can go on and on but it will take a book to tell your story. You deserve a National Award, my Coach. You have built people, and you have built lives.
Please accept this little tribute as my appreciation for what you stand for and for all you have done for Nigerian basketball. You have taught us well.
Happy birthday Coach OBJ.( 80 – 80).