‘TANA AIYEJINA writes on the basketball life and passion of late Dolphins proprietor Wale Aboderin, in this report
The news of the death of one of the major financiers of sports in Nigeria, Wale Aboderin, came as a rude shock to the sporting family and the entire country.
The Punch Nigeria Limited chairman and Dolphins Basketball Club proprietor died after a heart surgery at the First Cardiology Consultants in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Wednesday at the age of 60.
Tributes poured in from all sectors of the country for a man who distinguished himself and touched lives everywhere he went, especially the sports fraternity.
Aboderin, a United States-trained pilot, was a colossus in the sports world, with basketball his first love. Indeed, he was a phenomenal figure who etched his name in gold and because of his exploits in women basketball in Africa, he was affectionately referred to as Up Chair! by the basketball faithful.
In 1997, he set up Dolphins to become the first individual to privately own a women’s basketball club in Nigeria.
So, with youngsters like Patricia Chukwuma, Mary Chinweoko, Ochuko Okworogun, Gambo Mohammed, Amaka Adibeli, Amaka Ayozie, Alaba Rafiu, Bintu Badmus, Sadia Abolere, among others, the Dolphins dream began.
Right from when they played their first professional match in the Division 1 of the women’s league in 1998, till date, they’ve been a role model for other clubs in the country.
That pioneering act set the pace for the emergence of the likes of Dodan Amazons, GT 2000 and other women clubs in the Nigerian league, which was hitherto dominated by government-owned clubs.
Worthy of note was that on emergence on the domestic scene, they gave First Bank, the perennial winners, a run for their money despite playing with mostly rookies and very young players.
Aboderin was famed for discovering talents in the unlikeliest of places; he was never one to run after ready-made stars. And he was detribalised in his selection of players.
One of the pioneer coaches of the club, Aderemi Adewunmi, gave an insight into the fallen basketball phenomenon’s knack for spotting raw talents.
“We went to the East, Umuahia specifically, to fish for talents. We will go from Lagos by night bus to Umuahia to scout for the talents and return the following day to Lagos by night bus again.
“Sometimes, the parents of the girls felt we were going to kill their children, but today, they are the beneficiaries because Aboderin helped some of them to the US,” he stated.
Retired D’Tigress star, Caroline Ezinne-Briggs, was one of the beneficiaries of Aboderin’s catch-them-young policy.
Ezinne caught the eye with her performances at the National Sports Festival in Imo State in 1998 and Aboderin promptly traced her to her roots.
She recalls how her “destiny was rewritten” after an encounter with the benevolent basketball administrator.
“The greatest transformation of my life started on January 24, 1999. On that fateful morning, I heard a knock on the door and a young man from Lagos identified himself as Mr. Adewunmi Aderemi. He said Chairman, Mr. Wale Aboderin, sent him to come and get me. And from there, my destiny was rewritten,” Ezinne recalled in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH.
“That’s how Ezi (referring to herself) became a Lagos girl, and later, a national and then international girl. And that’s just because 60 years ago, God brought an angel to the world, a man he used to actualise people’s dreams; a man that has brought so much joy, laughter and happiness to many lives, a destiny helper.”
Another former Dolphins player, Nkechi Orajaka, has a similar tale as Ezinne’s to tell.
“I had never been to Lagos until Chairman (Aboderin) sent some people to Abia State to bring me to Lagos in 1999. Immediately I got to Lagos, he sent me to school, paid for my GCE and JAMB examinations. I left Dolphins in 2003 after I gained admission to the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in 2003,” the big centre, popularly called Biggie by Aboderin, stated.
Aboderin was a fan’s favourite because of the entertainment value he brought to the game. Indeed, he was an entertainer per excellence.
Many a time, he played his guitar on the court of the indoor sports hall of the National Stadium, Lagos, during his club’s games. And it was always a delight watching him and his players sing and dance to the sonorous tunes he reeled out. Even the opposition watched, most times in awe!
FIBA Africa Zone 3 president, Sam Ahmedu, said Aboderin was the man who gave the women a face in Nigerian basketball.
“When Dolphins played, they attracted huge crowds despite not having big names in their team. He gave his young players the confidence to tackle the big teams and players and before you knew it, they were one of the women’s teams to reckon with in Africa. He changed the women’s game like no other person did,” Ahmedu stated.
Truly, there was no stopping Dolphins with their entertaining and result-oriented style of play right from their inception.
And gradually over the years, Aboderin steered his side to become a household name in Africa, playing on the continent almost on a yearly basis and winning the FIBA African Champions Cup for Women Zone 3 qualifiers in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in 2015, same year they also won the highest title in women basketball, the Zenith Bank Women’s League.
Dolphins are also reputed as the only club in Nigeria with their own world-class facilities, which include an indoor hall, weight room, fitness room, swimming pool, amongst others, courtesy of their chairman, Aboderin.
Last November, Dolphins defeated Ghanaian champions, Braves of CEPS, twice in friendlies played at the ultra-modern indoor hall of the Dolphins sports centre.
The Ghanaian players and their officials lamented the poor facilities in their country after playing on the standard floor offered them by their Nigerian opponents for the very first time as against the concrete floors they used in Ghana.
“I think we play the same style. In terms of height, skills, shooting, we are almost alike but they (Dolphins) are used to the court while we train on bare ground in Ghana. We got tired easily here because it’s the first time we played on such a good court, which is also bigger compared to what we have in Ghana,” Anita Bonney, Braves captain, had stated.
Despite his busy schedule running Dolphins and his private business, the Aboderin still found time to serve basketball in various capacities.
He was a one-time Lagos State Basketball Association chairman and the Vice President, Nigeria Basketball Supporters Club amongst several other duties.
Surely, Nigerian basketball, not just the women’s game, will miss him.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]