On the death of the former basketball player from Alba Berlin

Berlin – 13 seconds left. The ball goes through the Indianapolis arena and sails straight into the arms of Ademola Okulaja, who hurried off, ran past everyone and now stuffs the orange ball into New Zealand’s basket. These are the last points for the German national team in their last match at the World Cup in 2002. They win the match and the bronze medal, a sensation.

One year later, Norrköping, EC. The German selection narrowly lost to Italy. She missed the quarterfinals, as well as the Olympics in 2004 in Athens, after only four matches it is over. Dirk Nowitzki, the star of the team, surrounded by journalists, leaning on a gym box, looking for explanations. Okulaja approaches the stage, pats his colleague on the shoulder and speaks comforting words.

Success and setbacks are a few expressions that cannot be separated. Not in an athlete’s life, in any life. Hardly anyone knew it better than Ademola Okulaja, the professional basketball player who was born in Lagos / Nigeria, grew up in Berlin and was socialized in sports. Nickname: The Warrior. He has now lost his last match. He died in Berlin only 46 years old. Nothing is known about the cause of death.

Both scenes stand for power forward in their own way – the one in Indianapolis and the one in Norrköping. There, in Sweden in 2003, he was still moving in the shadow of Nowitzki, the 2.13 meter tall exceptional player, literally and figuratively, even in the moment of failure. The Würzburger refined his talent with the Dallas Mavericks with care and diligence. As a teammate in the same position, Okulaja put his broad back to the service of the others and put his enormous physique to good use.

Ademola Okulaja in the shadow of the media by Dirk Nowitzki

The 2.06-foot-tall athlete could have used this to shine as a soloist, to chase the ball through the ring with hocus pocus during the final few seconds of the Indianapolis run and gun, for example, which he failed to do because it was not his way.

Maybe he would have gotten more media attention during his 172 internationals if these NBA colleagues had not existed. However, he was sure to attract the attention of his teammates as someone who was welcoming, playable and someone to be trusted. Such a person is also popular with fans who may recognize the essential characteristics of a Berlin basketball-style street basketball player. One of them? At least one that you can emulate in your own efforts in the outdoors.

In his three decades as a player, Okulaja has had many opportunities to reintroduce himself to a home crowd with his athletics. His career has 13 stations, 14 changes, he has played twice for Alba. His career as a basketball player also began in Berlin, an almost typical start for this sport in the capital. In 1989 he started at DTV Charlottenburg, from where he went to TuS Lichterfelde in 1990 for a four-year basic education.

A season in Alba of winning the Korac Cup as the crowning achievement was followed by four years on the team at the University of North Carolina, and when returning to Berlin, then almost mandatory reservations against players from the college league. An engagement in the NBA did not come about, not after university, not even later.

As of early October 2000, Okulaja already had a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers in his hands. However, he was not used, the contract expired in December. A year later, it was the San Antonio Spurs who showed interest, but there was no commitment there either.

Nevertheless, he made an impression abroad. Like Vince Carter, the living NBA legend. He responded to the news of the death of his former teammate at the University of North Carolina with the tweet: “Without a doubt, you have touched the lives of many others with your kindness.”

Okulaja traveled to Europe and focused on Spain with the strongest league on the continent: CB Girona, FC Barcelona, ​​Unicaja Malaga, Pamesa Valencia, plus a short intermission in Italy with Benetton Treviso and a season each with RheinEnergie Cologne and Chimki Moscow German championship title with Bamberg, where his active career ended in 2009. A career in staccato.


Alba professional Ademola Okulaja in 1995 with the Korac Cup.

At that time, the Franks canceled the current contract. There was nothing more Okulaja could do for her on the pitch. A tumor in the seventh thoracic vertebra had been detected. This had caused permanent back pain and eventually led to a fracture of the vertebral body. A titanium prosthesis restored Okulaja’s mobility, chemotherapy her life. The Berliner later described the ordeal as his toughest match to date. “Very lucky in misfortune” he had. As a basketball pro, he never returned to the floor.

And yet, the NBA finally succeeded. The most prominent basketball league in the world opened its doors to player agent Okulaja. He managed the German national team players Dennis Schröder, Houston Rockets and Daniel Theis, who are currently with the Boston Celtics in the NBA semifinals. “Thank you for all you have done for my family and my career,” Theis wrote on Instagram. “You will always be a part of us, and our thoughts are with your family.”

Ademola Okulaja’s account says “Loving Father” under his name. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

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