The Nigerian basketball community was as stunned as the rest of the world when news broke that Brooklyn Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was in the process of acquiring a Nigerian passport, which could see him represent the African nation at the next Olympics.
It comes barely two months after the Nigerians announced Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown as the man who will guide them to the Olympic Games, which were then still set to be played in July in Tokyo.
As moves go, the Dinwiddie bid is as clutch as it gets, as it not only fills a position where D’Tigers have had some trouble recently, but also sends a message — like the Brown hire — that Nigeria are going all in for broke in Tokyo and beyond.
An NBBF official told ESPN that conversations had been going on for at least a year about the Nets star, who doesn’t have any obvious connection to the country.
“His name has been under consideration since last year,” the official said. “We started talking about two years ago because we had some areas where we have weaknesses and the point guard area was a major one.
“We have a lot of depth in our forwards and centers. It is that playmaker that was the issue. And to compete at that level we need to be able to match up with the best. We hadn’t found a dependable point guard until now.
“And to be honest, at the level we were competing before, like the AfroBasket, we didn’t really need it. But the World Cup and Olympics are a different level.
“At that level, we need a very dependable point guard and Dinwiddie will be very useful to us in that position but he is top on the list for now, even though Ben Uzoh has been dependable for a long time.”
As for how Dinwiddie, who has not represented the USA at senior level, could play for a country he has no connection to, NBBF president Musa Kida said in a statement: “We have lost many good players in the past, but now things are looking up. Top-rated players have started reaching out to the federation.
“We will consider each player including the likes of Dinwiddie on a case by case basis in accordance with FIBA rules as provided for under Chapter 3, article 21(a).”
Kida’s statement did little to un-muddy these particular waters. Neither does the rule in question offer any additional clarity as it simply stipulates that:
“A national team participating in a Competition of FIBA may have only one player on its team who has acquired the legal nationality of that country by naturalisation or by any other means after having reached the age of sixteen.”
Where neither the rules nor the president provided much enlightenment, ESPN’s NBBF source offered a peek into the thinking behind the acquisition.
They said: “We knew we needed some star power. And we considered where we needed the most help. But that area [point guard] is where we were a bit lacking and we were [searching] all over the place.”
That leaves the question of what Dinwiddie would bring to D’Tigers’ party. Why him?
Despite showing great progress, especially in winning and then reaching the Final of consecutive AfroBasket tournaments, qualifying for the World Cup and then making the Olympic Games, Nigeria have ambitions that extend beyond mere participation on the global level.
Those ambitions have been hampered somewhat by a dearth of top tier talent in key areas, despite having an army of players with Nigeria connections in the NBA and elsewhere. Players that include Victor Oladipo, Bam Adebayo, OG Anunoby, Jahlil Okafor, and many more.
At the FIBA World Cup last year, their performance was generally considered a disappointment, with the Olympic ticket being the only real silver lining to emerge from it.
Kida says adjustments were needed, telling ESPN: “While at the World Cup in China, the coaches and many Nigerians noticed that we needed more tested hands to improve the team.
“We are therefore working closely with the technical crew to identify players capable of bringing something to the table.
“A podium finish at the now postponed Summer Games is not impossible, but to achieve such feat, the best materials must be made use of.”
To get to that podium, the feeling was that the roster was one or two players away from truly being competitive, and point guard was the one position that looked especially vulnerable.
Nigeria are in need of a consistent playmaker with passing and scoring skills in order to compete with the best. Dinwiddie would be the perfect fit.
In his sixth season in the league, the 27-year-old posted career highs of 20.6 points, 6.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game and was enjoying what was shaping up to be the best season of his career before the pandemic-enforced halt was called.
Acquiring the Nets guard is another piece to their puzzle and may certainly not be the last.
Kida explained: “New Orleans Pelicans centre Jahlil Okafor is also reportedly interested in fighting for a shirt. There are many top players out there who are eligible to play for us while some may also be thinking of naturalization as allowed by FIBA rules.”
This is not the first time an African country will use a naturalized American. Angola have trod the same path before with Dennis Moore, but it is a move that will leave some Nigerians squirming.
However, if Dinwiddie can help D’Tigers get on the podium in Tokyo, even the critics won’t care.