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Ugo Udezue: From an NBA agent to unite Africa through a game | Speed ​​Issues

After Ugo Udezue resigned from his job as a National Basketball Association (NBA) agent at one of the top companies in the United States four years ago, he did not think he would continue to pioneer the first African sportswear company to officially wear the team at the Japan Olympics this year. .

At least, it was not the original plan.

It would have been easy to be in California with a client team that includes players from the Golden State Warriors to the Brooklyn Nets. Apart from that, Udezue had been in the US since the 1990s, when basketball training lured him from his native Nigeria.

But when he arrived in the United States, his homeland had a new opportunity.

“I’m back in Africa with the idea of ​​starting a national league that could be similar to the NBA,” the former midfielder told Al Jazeera. “All of the best game skills come from Africa, even LeBron James fans can follow the return line (sic).”

Udezue, who calls himself Pan-African, is keen to unite the continent through business and sport.

The Nigerian basketball team based in Tokyo was formed by AFA Sports [Courtesy of AFA Sports]

“It is important for the people of Africa to make a difference in Africa, for Africa to be able to do business and for Africans to spend money if it is good,” said the 43-year-old.

Udezue was at the forefront of establishing the Continental Basketball League in 2017 when his next business started. At the time it was just a remnant of the league’s remnants, which grew to 10 teams in six African countries.

“When we started the league I realized that basketballs were very slippery because they are made for gymnastics and we all know that there are not many in Africa,” said Udezue. I went to China and made a sweat ball and immediately we saw a few small drops in the game. ”

An independent self-employed did not stop there.

“From my experience as a player, I realized that most Africans have smooth feet, which is why we developed a ‘Breeze’ shoe that achieves this to reduce the need for special insoles.”

This created the prospect of AFA Sports, which means “Africa for Africa” ​​and has grown to become one of the world’s largest clothing retailers.

“Our motto is ‘This Is Ours,'” said Udezue, referring to the culture of the common people in this country. “We’re trying to do something out of the ordinary.”

In fact, the name “LIV (54)” was written on the first lines of the AFA, with 54 flags representing the number of countries in Africa.

‘LIV (54)’ was inscribed on the first line of AFA Sports, with 54 flags representing the number of countries in Africa [Courtesy of AFA Sports]

A good place for a plague

Udezue’s vision proved more than just belief. It was also wise.

After the COVID-19 epidemic halted global trade last year, many businesses found it difficult to keep up. But AFA Sports was achieved to benefit from the sudden change of consumerism, having introduced new gym and sleepwear in 2019.

“When the outbreak started everyone wanted to stay home to exercise,” Udezue said.

Particularly under contract, AFA Sports also set up factories in Lagos as part of Udezue’s work to reduce unemployment in Nigeria, which runs at 32% but is even worse when in the financial sector.

“In Nigeria [football] the team went to the 2018 World Cup with a famous jersey, a lot of money was made from their worldwide sales but there was no production in Nigeria, ”he lamented. “This is a great opportunity to lose in a world where unemployment is like this.”

The idea of ​​local production instead of just exporting was successful as global chains stood firm last year.

“With so many places around the world closed that time, importing was banned so we became very popular because we were the only ones who made and sold cheap sportswear locally,” Udezue said.

And Udezue wants to continue to benefit at the moment.

As more companies continue to close down operations, AFA Sports – which ships to 20 countries and now has two shops in Lagos and one in Abuja – is planning to expand operations.

AFA Sports plans to open a running shoe factory on a contract next year, enabling Africa to produce 100% [Courtesy of AFA Sports]

“We hold 90% of our production in Africa and we hope to be 100% live by 2022 when we officially open our shoe factory,” he said, adding that the company has created about 800 jobs since its inception and is preparing 2,000 trailers by the end of this year.

New products are also available, including AFA Sports’ which has an afrileisure label, which will use leisure clothing in Africa.

“We wanted to redefine something that already existed that Africans will be proud of, that’s why we seized traditional African clothing such as kaftan and jalamia,” Sam Otigba, director of AFA, told Al Jazeera.

For Udezue, who spent his savings and sold some of his assets to raise money for AFA Sports, the rewards for putting him at risk are excellent. But that does not mean that he did not face many obstacles.

These factors: the lack of distribution mechanisms in the contractor to be able to run border trade.

“It’s easier to send from Lagos to London than from Lagos to Nairobi, Kenya,” he explained.

There are also some construction problems. Making the heels of shoes takes a lot of reliable electricity. Nigeria’s power is short-lived and the world produces as much electricity as the North Carolina government in the US, although its population – about 200 million – is ten times larger.

Popular support

But Udezue has other advantages. Some of Africa’s best-known artists – from Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie to Nigerian composer Patoranking – endorse AFA Sports.

“I stopped wearing other colors,” Nigerian singer Paul Okoye, also known as Rudeboy, told Al Jazeera. “My job is like a sport because I travel a lot so I wear AFA to my concerts because it’s a good season here.”

Nigerian songwriter Paul Okoye, also known as Rudeboy, has confirmed to AFA Sports [Courtesy of AFA Sports]

Okoye, who is now a solo artist and has more than 12 million followers in entertainment, was half of Africa’s most popular music, P-Square.

In addition to supporting the Nigerian Olympic basketball team at the end of the Olympics, AFA Sports plays for teams in more than five African countries, and sponsors various competitions as well as sports camps and schools.

“The game can be a real boost for the economy,” said Udezue, who was recently elected chairman of the Anambra Basketball Association in the eighth most populous Nigerian government.

“We have everything we need here: resources, people,” he said. “And we believe, we can set fire to the whole of Africa.”

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