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“It’s unbelievable, you know. The fans. The passion. So for me I’ll give Nam Blazers credit for that. They really marketed this well. I think they did a better marketing job than even the federation (Fuba)," Okello says.
James Okello and the City Oilers had to dig deep last Sunday to restore the course of their history, which was under serious threat from a Nam Blazers team that was attempting to do what the Oilers did some nine years ago.
Then, in 2013, a team had arrived from the lower division to the National Basketball League (NBL); with it some fresh breath of exuberance.
That team was the City Oilers! They arrived with oomph, poise and purpose - embarking on a journey that broke the Falcons-Power hegemony, creating a beautiful monster that you see today.
Coach Monday Junuri’s Oilers went on to win the championship in their first season in top division basketball.
The trophy computation has since counted two, three, four, five, six, seven - stupid Covid, cowardly pandmic - and EIGHT last Sunday. What a team!
Blazers attempt at ‘an Oilers’
The closest club - Falcons - are on six titles and were the first victims as Oilers dispatched them for the latter’s maiden championship. Falcons now ply their trade in the lower echelons.
That, what Oilers did in 2013, is what Nam Blazers, a community club whose mobilisation and drive has inspired many, wanted to do in their very first season in top flight basketball.
And they did their best in the best of seven finals series, coming from 3-1 down to level them in Game Six before Oilers’ experience had the now eight-time champions over the line in the 66-64 victory (4-3).
Okello was the man driving the Oilers on, the forward eventually claiming the MVP award for the third time.
Losing mum, injuries
Appearing on Monday night’s premier sports show, the NTV Sport Knights this week, Okello - who has been part of all eight championship titles having joined the Oilers in 2012, says this was the hardest and sweetest of all, and dedicates it to his late mum, Chilly Mandawun, who passed on this year.
“Definitely this is the toughest season I’ve played in my entire career,” said Okello, “This is the season I also lost my mum. Then the team (Oilers) came for the burial and on the way back to Kampala they got involved in an accident.
“I reached the scene, you know, and I couldn’t believe my teammates had come out alive.”
Okello added: “Immediately after that, I got a serious injury. Even as a team, we had many injuries… Everytime we were fewer… six… five. So, personally the season has been very, very tough, and that’s why I’m so excited and am enjoying this championship.”
Okello’s mum was his number one fan, and this title is dedicated to her. “You know my mum has been very supportive especially when it comes to basketball.
“There are a number of times I’ve wanted to leave basketball and go and do other things but she kept on encouraging me ‘keep playing. Keep playing. You are doing well.”
At this point, Okello’s emotions broke through his voice. “So when I lost her, it was the toughest moment ever in my life. I reached a point when I was so, so low. This title is for her.”
Okello says that while he appreciates the first titles, his eighth and the last three or so before that were more satisfying because he was one of the decisive players, claiming MVP on three occasions along the way.
Hats off for the Blazers
He was full of praise of his teammates for standing up against a very powerful Nam Blazers even when injuries left them thin on manpower.
But Okello reserved special praise for Nam Blazers: “We had to beat them. Nam Blazers were not built to just come and dethrone us. This team was built to just come and embarrass us. I thank my teammates. We stood up and defended our championship.
“But Nam Blazers, man! These guys have done big things. I’ve been in this league for years but even when the national team is playing I’ve not seen those numbers.
“It’s unbelievable, you know. The fans. The passion. So for me I’ll give Nam Blazers credit for that. They really marketed this well. I think they did a better marketing job than even the federation (Fuba).”
Game Seven between City Oilers and Nam Blazers, and UCU Lady Canons and JKL Lady Dolphins had the Lugogo Arena packed to the rafters - raising both safety concerns and insight into the power of sport. Several hundred other fans had to be kept out.
Name: James Okello
DOB: January26, 1992 (Age 30)
Position: Power forward
Club: City Oilers since 2012
Individual honours: 3-time MVP