Posted by By Onochie Anibeze, Houston, USA on
CELESTINE Okwilagwe, wants to know. Celestine Okwilagwe met his wife Loveth Isidaehomen, on the tracks of National Stadium, Lagos. Those were days that athletes burnt the tracks with their pace to win local competitions and find their ways to God’s-Own-Country.
CELESTINE Okwilagwe, wants to know. Celestine Okwilagwe met his wife Loveth Isidaehomen, on the tracks of National Stadium, Lagos. Those were days that athletes burnt the tracks with their pace to win local competitions and find their ways to God’s-Own-Country. They were always training at the stadium.
Celestine, was at a time not ‘concentrating’ as his eyes, rather than focus on the tracks, steadied on the fine legs of Loveth as she trained on the tracks of National Stadium. Loveth was a 400m runner and, Celestine a 400m hurdler. The good thing about track and field athletes is that education remain the springboard to their careers. Their objective as local athletes is to gain scholarship to American universities, compete for them and go to school.
When they attained great heights, they made money from the numerous meets especially in Europe, compete in the Olympics and other big international meets. When they stop active sports, they remain useful to the society and themselves here in USA. And that’s how Celestine who went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas on sports scholarship long after competing for the school has now been able to set up businesses that have made himself and Loveth well known Nigerians here.
Their C & C Tuxedo Bridal shop run by Loveth is rich and well patronised, their home health company is doing well and in their South Medical Supply & Equipment outfit is fairly successful. But Celestine still talks sports. He has not left it and he is now deeply involved in the course of Nigeria International Athletes Association, a group made up of former Nigerian athletes based here in the United States whose main objective is to help in the development of sports in Nigeria through opening up avenues for local athletes to move abroad to widen their scope academically and in sports.
Last November, they held a convention in Houston, Texas and this year, they will be heading to the ‘Big Apple’ - New York City. The association, NIAA is open to athletes of all sports. Celestine wants more people to identify with their course. They are getting responses but the attitude of Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon, has continued to baffle Celestine.
"I really don’t know why Hakeem does not want to identify with Nigeria,’’ he started as we talked sports while he was driving on the streets of Dallas to meet some appointments. "I don’t know what Nigeria has done to him that it has not done to others who are not happy with the leadership of the country but still regards our country as their only home.
"We called him over this association but he never takes such calls. Here is a man whose shoes can do a lot for Basketball in Nigeria. Here is a guy who was, for a long time, worth over $15m every year. I know how rich he is and that’s why I said that even his shoes can help Nigerian sports.
"Hakeem grew up at the Row Park in Yaba, Lagos and that place is dead now. Do you know what $100,000 can do to revive the place? That’s nothing to Hakeem. And even if he cannot invest cash, couldn’t he have invested his name on Row Park? His presence or visit to the place only can change that place. You can imagine if with little money he had an ‘Hakeem Olajuwon Basketball Championship’ every year at Row Park.
"It could be during off season and he could invite some of his NBA friends and, I bet you that they would like to visit Africa. Such a championship would have been a recruitment centre for some American universities and we would have had more Hakeem Olajuwons today. Somebody recruited Hakeem. He did not recruit himself. Now, tell me whom Hakeem has recruited? There’s a proverb in my place that says: "it takes one to be many."
"Hakeem was a chosen one. He is blessed and every Nigerian is thankful to God for what he became. But Hakeem does not identify with Nigeria at all. And that my village saying would not have meaning today if we were in Hakeem’s world. Hakeem left NBA just a few years ago, but do you know that if you ask Nigerian kids about him now many would not figure him out?
"But just few years ago, the world knew Hakeem ‘The Dream.’ For all his money here, he has not left any legacy back home. It baffles one because with his fame, he would have done a lot for Nigeria even if he wouldn’t spend a dime of his. I know that his is rich and that his family will never be poor but is that all he wants?
"If that is the way, the world will not be what it is today. I don’t know how it sounds that people are still talking about Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun and ‘Chairman’ Christian Chukwu and Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami. Any yet they are not talking of Hakeem Olajuwon. Is that good?"
Nigerians here monitor the happenings at home and they are largely disappointed at the continuous inept and corrupt leadership that has made Nigeria badly raped economically, politically and otherwise. But they, like Chinua Achebe explained in his letter to President Obasanjo, explaining why he rejected the national honour awarded him, have tremendous concern for the future of the country.
Celestine feels that Hakeem does not. He prays and hopes that something changes his mind to think the Nigerian that he is and contribute "just a little." Celetine does not regret the distraction Loveth caused him on the tracks of Lagos Stadium. They all made it to America here, happily married with three children. They are now celebrating their anniversary and many years of courtship. And their story is that of WHAT SPORTS HAS PUT TOGETHER, LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER.
Another is the story of Paul Emordi, the great Long and Triple Jumper. Watch out for it!
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