Follow FIBA on Facebook
The Angolan fan who forgot about the rivalry between Nigeria and Angola
BENGUELA (Angola) - Nigeria had just thumped Uganda 95-69 in the last game of the first window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 African Qualifiers in Benguela when an Angolan fan expressed his passion for Ike Diogu in a way that the former NBA player couldn't ignore him.
After the final buzzer, Cris Joao, one of the many fans who attended most of the twelve games played in the coastal city of Benguela, remained in the stands while Diogu walked off the court, heading to the locker room. Joao says, that was the best opportunity to interact with the former AfroBasket MVP.
"IT DOESN'T MATTER IF HE IS NIGERIAN AND I AM ANGOLAN. AT THE END OF THE DAY, WE ARE ALL AFRICANS."
Joao called for an apparent exhausted Diogu, who stopped to attend the excited fan. A globetrotter who has seen his career taking him to different parts of the globe, Diogu might have understood Joao's request in Portuguese.
The 38-year-old power forward took his emblematic Jersey No.6 off, handed it to Joao, who couldn't be contained of excitement.
"I love Africa," said the US-born Diogu. "I love being Nigerian. I love being the captain of this team. I love playing with all these guys. And Africa has shown me love since the very beginning. I've been coming to Africa since I was a kid. To be able to represent the great country of Nigeria, to be able to represent my village, to be able to represent the East along with Coach [Julius Nwosu] ... is priceless. "
Despite the historical rivalry between Nigeria and Angola, Joao, a sales manager in his hometown of Benguela, insisted that Diogu made his day.
"I am a proud Angolan. This has nothing to do with the rivalry between our country and Nigeria in basketball terms. [Diogu] He's a fantastic player. It's a dream come true to be able to get his national team jersey.
"It doesn't matter if he is Nigerian and I am Angolan. At the end of the day, we are all Africans. Diogu is one of my favourite players in Africa."
Angola dominated African basketball for most of the past two decades, but it was the Nigerians, who interrupted Angola's winning run in the final of AfroBasket 2015 when Nigeria won their solo African Championship title.
"In my mind, we are still the No.1 team in Africa. We are still the best team in Africa and we have a lot of potential," Joao said.
"We should have done better in this World Cup qualifiers. As the home team we should have won all games, but I am confident, this team of young players will win many games," Joao said.
"I love basketball, it's my number one sport. I like football too, but basketball is my number one. I want to thank the organisation FIBA, FAB and the Benguela Government for bringing this tournament to my town of Benguela. We really needed something to cheer us up. For me, it was a five-star tournament. We had three days of basketball party and celebration."
Asked about the meaning of Diogu's jersey, Joao said he will frame it and display in his living room.
"As you can see it, it's too big for me to wear it, may be two or three times my size, but it doesn't matter it's a huge honor for me to have Diogu's jersey," Joao said.