‘Only good leadership, proper organisation will make Nigeria harvest financial returns from basketball business’
Mfon Udoka, a Nigerian-American Communication and exWNBA/Nigeria Women’s National Basketball Team (The D’tigress) Power Forward expert, in this leisure talk with Ohiozokhai Elakhe, spoke about her dual citizenship, love for Nigerian culture, food, music; her career, personality, among others. Excerpts:
While smiling we started by saying: Mesière, abadiè mfiñ/Idem fö? Do you know what that means?
[Lol! It means] hello, how are you?
The language is from your lineage, right? Your lineage is which state and what dialect?
[While nodding] Akwa Ibom, Ibibio.
How well do you speak the language?
I don’t speak the language, only English.
You can’t speak Ibibio but we hope you have got Nigerian pidgin handle?
[Hahahaha.] I dey speak pidgin small small lol! Abeg speak pidgin jare; I wan chop; E too cost abeg. Years ago, we had a teammate who was never on time to the bus. I asked my teammates how do you say you’re so slow? When they told me how, it became a daily ritual because she was late every day.
So now if we run into each other it’s a hug then followed by shouting you too dey slooooww. Make we dey go now! It was also funny to me how the words now and ooo are added to everything, such as why now? How now? Wetin now? Come now. Go now. Leave me now. Abeg oooooo. Ok ooo. Oya ooo. See yansh oooo haha. Comot for road oooo. Wahala dey oooo! (Hahaha.) But the best is: how body? Body dey inside clothes. I think my favourite word is shakara. It just sounds fancy. And saying ah ah constantly.
‘I have heard many students and adults say that learning personal finance should be mandatory.’
Any hope of learning Ibibio?
I would say yes, but I am such an American in terms of only speaking one language. When I was younger I studied Spanish, and I am actually pretty good at picking up languages. I always said I wanted to learn another language, so it is just a matter of focusing on doing it!
Your surname indicates it’s your dad that is Nigerian. Did he ever speak his native language to you?
No; he didn’t; just a few words.
What of your mum? Is she Nigerian and did she ever speak your dad’s or her own language?
Mom was American and White, so no.
What do you understand about your culture in the diaspora and do you partake in cultural events?
I don’t do any Ibibio cultural events, but do love any Nigerian party, wedding, etc. The vibes and culture are unmatched. Nigerians are just the best of the best. No one does it better!
‘It seems that girls and women always come second outside of the Western world’
When did you find out you were Nigerian as well as American? How much did you visit home before/after finding out you are Nigerian?
I can’t remember when I knew I was Nigerian, but I am pretty sure having a father from a distant country made me curious about the world and sparked my love for travel. I didn’t visit until [I was] 27, when I was invited to play for the national team. My dad only went back twice in my lifetime, once in the [‘80s] and once in the late [‘90s.] I try to visit yearly, but Covid complicated life so I haven’t been since 2021.
Did your peers ever find your name strange—to pronounce among others—and tease you?
[Lol!] No one can really say my name correctly, even Nigerians. I have probably gotten more compliments than teasing, but the teasing was more in the form of nicknames, and not really disrespectful or mean.
How did you handle it?
It is kind of annoying to have to pronounce my name a million times for someone to say it properly, and it has not gotten any less annoying as I have gotten older. Sometimes, I don’t even bother introducing myself by name because I know there are going to be difficulties.
Did you ever find your name/surname strange?
I grew up with not knowing anyone else having my name, and I liked it that way. When I was younger I wished to have a more common name but now I don’t. I didn’t meet another Mfon until I was in my [‘20s.]
Any cultural shock when you first came to Nigeria? How did you adjust and how long did it take you to adjust?
The most shocking thing was how busy and crowded Lagos was; the food as well, because I had to eat a lot more starch than I like to and not enough vegetables. But the worst thing by far is pepper. Everything is just entirely too spicy for me. I always ask for no pepper because I know if I say a little, the little bit of pepper to a Nigerian will still be too much for me. My mouth is just crying and this is not enjoyable for me at all!
Can you now dress/dance/cook etc the way women from Akwa Ibom, Ibibio dress, dance and cook?
No, that’s not really my thing. I have never been into dancing and I don’t cook native food on a regular basis. I would wear the clothing but that is not something I would do on a daily basis.
What did you study, when and where? How useful is that in today’s business world, Dtigress etc?
I studied Communications at DePaul University and have a Master’s in Sport Administration from Canisius College. I taught a high school communications class and have done many ventures with sports [business] in general.
In a class where I teach Creative/Cultural Art, for the topic: ‘Income generation for Artists’, I had to show to my Junior Secondary School three class of ages 10-12, a video of a young girl of say eight years accurately answering questions on tax, that her father was asking her. Is this an odd, or is this usual for American kids to know these simple things about business/personal income before they turn adults?
We are not really taught about that here, but definitely should be learning this in our schools. American schools are outdated as far as curriculum goes, and I have heard many students and adults say that learning personal finance should be mandatory.
In an interview by BBALLtitude basketball magazine, you gave a little about your beauty tips that revealed a little about your personality. Can you tell us more about [beauty, your personality etc.]
I am a pretty introverted person unless I am around people I know and like. I spend a lot of time observing people and am not naturally outgoing and friendly. I will never be the loudest person in a room. I am loyal, honest and I like to think I give good advice. I love to travel, read, work out, watch and play sports and read/learn about history. I also enjoy fashion and elaborate clothing on other people, but my personal style is pretty simple. I like classic staple clothing, with a bit of sporty and I don’t really get into trends.
I love heels and sneakers the same, but can’t really wear heels as much anymore because they hurt my feet and knees. I am best described as a girly tomboy. I like to do things people may consider boyish, but I never wanted to be a boy or look like one. I am the middle child between two brothers, and the only girl, so that definitely shaped my personality and style.
I still love to get dressed up and do my hair and makeup every now and then, but on a day to day basis I am pretty simple and classic or sporty. I am the opposite of glam mostly because it is just too much work.
Which positions did you play?
I am a natural power forward, but for Nigeria I played all positions.
What is the job requirement for that position to ensure its strategically usefulness in defeating the competition [in the market place?]
Smart, physical, good rebounder and able to finish around the basket.
You grew up in the U.S.A, and played basketball there in your formative years. What’s the difference between the game there and in Nigeria assuming you played some street ball here?
Basketball in America is the best in the world. People from all walks of life play the game and it is a big part of recreation. No other country does sports and recreation like America. We have better organisation and facilities here. It is a lifestyle for many people.
Which parts of Nigeria have you visited or would like to visit?
I would like to visit the entire country, I wish it were safer and the roads were better so I could drive all over, I have been to Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Zaria, and have seen a lot of Akwa Ibom. Also, anywhere with a waterfall. I adore waterfalls. I would also like to see some of the older heritage sites such as ruins, caves, statues, monuments, etc. I love history and the outdoors in general.
Generally, is the girl child getting the best support here in Nigeria like in the USA? Is she in regards playing basketball for the national team?
No, it seems that girls and women always come second outside of the Western world. There isn’t a proper women’s league to harvest talent so I don’t blame most players for wanting to leave Nigeria for opportunities.
If the Nigerian business community were to ask you how can Nigeria harvest good financial returns from the NBA Nigeria/basketball business opportunity, what would you tell them?
It starts with leadership and proper organisation.
What about [the profitable income generation] from coaching, management, consultancy of any of the national team groups?
I have done all of that [with Nigeria.]
How can Nigeria promote itself better in the international community?
It starts with leadership. Right now, Ghana is doing it correctly and it is sad that Nigeria is so behind.
Who wins mostly any arguments that occurs between you and Ime, your brother? And who is the more annoying and the cry baby?
[Lol!] We don’t argue as adults, but he was the bratty little brother even though we are just one year apart. I was fine until he grew and became bigger than me. After that, no more. [Hahaha.]
‘Right now [Nigeria is] not … because of failed leadership and lack of organisation’
During your WNBA time, you played mostly three games for each franchise but during the 2004 Olympics, you were second in the tournament in scoring and rebounding, which had team USA and other high scoring players. What happened?
Success on one team doesn’t always translate to another team. There are completely different rosters, circumstances, etc.
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The D’Tigress became the first African team to ever win a game at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Can Nigeria, ever win it?
Right now, we are not in the position to win anything because of failed leadership and lack of organisation. But it is not impossible if these things are ever straightened out and given proper attention. Nigeria does not lack talent.
If you one day become the first [entrepreneur] woman president of the NBBF/Sports Ministry, what would you first change or do [business wise to make it profitable and totally functional]?
Fire everyone and start over with competent, organised and unselfish people. There would also be a mix of men and women who were involved with the game, all under 50 years old.
Which books have you read that you can recommend?
‘The Four Agreements’ and ‘How To Do The Work’ [by Don Miguel Ruiz and Nicole LePera respectively.] I like nonfiction and self help books.
Which are your best US/Nigerian: films; type of music, food?
Favourite food is Edikaikong, second favourite is Egusi, both with eba or fufu and NO PEPPER haha. I love Nigerian music. I don’t like referring to it as Afrobeats. I don’t know why, but I feel like that is too general of a term. There are too many songs and artists to list an absolute favourite, and it seems like there is a never ending stream of genius musical talent coming out of Nigeria. I also love the older music, Prince Nico Mbarga specifically because of memories from childhood. It is nostalgic for me. [Mbarga is known for producing the highlife hit: Sweet Mother.