Nigeria clears basketball teams to return to competition

Nigeria men's basketball
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The Nigerian government made a sudden U-turn on Thursday and cleared its national basketball teams to return to competition immediately.

The decision to lift a ban on the teams playing in international competitions came after an appeal to the government by the Nigerian Basketball Federation and “intervention” by former Nigerian international players, the sports ministry said. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari approved the return to play, the ministry said in a statement.

The Nigerian government withdrew its teams from international competitions for a two-year period last month citing a leadership struggle and other administrative problems within the national basketball federation.

That move led to the women’s team losing its place at the World Cup in Australia in September. It’s unclear if Nigeria’s women will be able to get their place at the World Cup back after international governing body FIBA replaced them with Mali. The Nigerian sports ministry said it had recently been speaking with FIBA.

The two-year ban also threatened the men’s team’s qualification for the 2023 World Cup. The World Cup qualifiers start again on July 1 and the Nigeria men’s team said on Twitter following the lifting of the ban that it was “scrambling” to see if it can now make the qualifying competition in Kigali, Rwanda.

The men’s World Cup also serves as the qualifying tournament for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Nigeria is in danger of missing both if it misses those qualifiers in Rwanda.

The Nigeria men’s team is coached by Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown and put itself on the map by upsetting the United States in a warmup game ahead of last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

The government’s decision last month to pull the teams from international competitions was fiercely criticized by players on the Nigeria teams but also drew reaction from figures in the NBA. Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who are both of Nigerian descent, expressed their frustration with the leadership of Nigerian basketball.

The sharpest criticism of the authorities came from the men’s team, which posted on Twitter early this month: “We hope someday Nigeria will be led by a government without corruption & greed. The future of Nigeria basketball is extremely bright and we are being held back by our leaders.”

There’s been a long history of problems at the Nigerian Basketball Federation but the latest issues center on a leadership tussle after two separate presidents were elected to lead the NBBF in parallel elections. The sports ministry said the lifting of the ban depended on the NBBF honoring a commitment it gave to work with the ministry to resolve all its “issues.”

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Joel Embiid gains U.S. citizenship, mum on Olympic nationality

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Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid said he is now a U.S. citizen and it’s way too early to think about what nation he would represent at the Olympics.

“I just want to be healthy and win a championship and go from there,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Embiid, 28, was born in Cameroon and has never competed in a major international tournament. In July, he gained French nationality, a step toward being able to represent that nation at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In the spring, French media reported that Embiid started the process to become eligible to represent France in international basketball, quoting national team general manager Boris Diaw.

Embiid was second in NBA MVP voting this season behind Serbian Nikola Jokic. He was the All-NBA second team center.

What nation Embiid represents could have a major impact on the Paris Games.

In Tokyo, a French team led by another center, Rudy Gobert, handed the U.S. its first Olympic defeat since 2004. That was in group play. The Americans then beat the French in the gold-medal game 87-82.

That France team had five NBA players to the U.S.’ 12: Nicolas BatumEvan FournierTimothe Luwawu-CabarrotFrank Ntilikina and Gobert.

Anthony Davis, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the lone U.S. center to make an All-NBA team in the last five seasons. In that time, Embiid made four All-NBA second teams and Gobert made three All-NBA third teams.

No Olympic team other than the U.S. has ever had two reigning All-NBA players on its roster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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