The Unconventional Path of Zeke Nnaji: From NBA Finals to STEM Education in Nigeria
Winning an NBA championship requires not just physical prowess but also a sharp mind. Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji has taken this lesson to heart and is applying it beyond the basketball court.
Nnaji, who is set to face the Miami Heat in this year’s NBA finals, has invested in science-based education through his family foundation back home in Nigeria. The program focuses on topics such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality with the goal of helping young Nigerians achieve their career aspirations.
“Anything is possible if they put their mind to it,” said Nnaji, whose father hails from Nigeria. “I hope that my actions will inspire young people over there [in Nigeria] that they can accomplish anything they want.”
Through his foundation, Nnaji built an athletics center which now serves as a venue for STEM learning – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – featuring subjects like music engineering, coding AI and virtual reality programming. This way students can choose where they want to go and what kind of career path they wish to take at an early age.
“We’re planning on building more STEM technology centers,” he continued. “Our aim is for those interested in certified engineering programs so that we give them a chance.”
A Dream Come True
Born in Minnesota USA but with Nigerian roots; representing Nigeria at some point would be incredibly humbling according to him if given a chance by the National team selectors.
Currently playing in the NBA finals series with his team, Nnaji and his teammates are making history as they reach their first ever NBA Finals – following an impressive 4-0 clean sweep against Los Angeles Lakers during their Western Conference championship playoffs.
“The chemistry is great,” Nnaji states about his team’s camaraderie. “We’ve always felt from the beginning of the year that we could win and every man is equally important.”
A Next-Minute Mentality
Although not a regular player in these games, Zeke notes he still feels valued and part of such an amazing team.
The Nuggets had to wait nine days to find out who they would face after Miami Heat was taken to game seven by Boston Celtics leading three-nil earlier on. This gave time for more practice sessions ahead of any anticipated match-up.
“It was really weird because we’re like, ‘we’re gonna play the Heat.’ And then all of a sudden Boston come back and win three games in a row. So like, then we’re gonna play Boston! But during that time, actually, we did a lot of work on ourselves.”, explains Nnaji.
The Importance Of Identity
“We made sure our fundamentals, our basics, our philosophies and what makes us ‘us’ were top-notch, so that when we came out to play we were ready. And Miami Heat is not an easy team to beat. We knew we had to come in strong.”
The Heat are the first eighth seeds to reach the NBA finals since 1999 but Nnaji is taking nothing for granted against such tough opponents like Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Caleb Martin.
“We’ve got to be focused,” he said. “If we come out aggressive with great defense and move the ball on offense while running up and down at a fast pace then there’s no reason why we can’t win…