Miami Heat stars Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent have taken different basketball paths to get where they are at now. And their journey toward embracing their respective Nigerian heritage is different, too. And yet here they are, on the cusp of winning an NBA title that’ll put them—as well as Nigeria—on the basketball map globally in a way few envisioned.
The first to win four in the best-of-seven series accomplishes the goal that every team dreams about all season. This is where talent and toughness collide in a way that provides a level of thrill and engagement for fans that you won’t find any other time of the year.
But the truth is, as much as these games matter, arguably just as important are the stories we learn about these athletes.
We’ve had a season full of narratives surrounding the game’s big names, but it’s their supporting cast whose time to shine and stories to tell is now.
It’s OK to get your fill of stories about Denver superstar and two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic, and Miami’s Jimmy Butler whose play—and that of the Miami Heat—continue to keep the good folks in Las Vegas guessing incorrectly over and over again about how good they are.
But baked into the Miami Heat’s feel-good narrative is the tale of two young men, starters Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent, whose paths as players to this point are just as divergent as their respective journeys toward embracing their Nigerian heritage.
Adebayo was a star at basketball power Kentucky, selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft by Miami and a key member of the Heat ever since.
Vincent was an undrafted NBA journeyman in the making, bouncing between the NBA’s G-League, limited to non-existent roles in the NBA to where he is today, a starter for Miami who has arguably been the Heat’s most consistent performer in the postseason and whose play has provided an unexpected lift to the Miami Heat’s journey to the Finals.
They are connected beyond simply being teammates. Both have a strong connection to Africa, with each of their fathers being from Nigeria.
Vincent has seemingly embraced his Nigerian heritage, even going so far as to play for the Nigerian national team which upset Team USA in a 2021 exhibition game in which Vincent led the way with 23 points.
Adebayo, whose father John Adebayo passed away in 2020, had a different feel for Nigeria early on in life.
“He was around when I was younger, and then my mom moved to North Carolina,” Adebayo told Andscape’s Marc J. Spears. “So, he kind of became distant. I can’t really credit him for a lot of stuff."
Adebayo added, “But, at the end of the day, he did make me. So, I give him props for that.”
The distance between Adebayo and his father was never fully closed prior to John Adebayo’s death, but Adebayo’s willingness and desire to better understand and embrace his African roots grew with time. “At the end of the day I’m half-Nigerian,” Adebayo said. “But, I don’t want to say that and not know the history of my name or where my tribe is.”
Vincent’s understanding of Nigeria, the role it has played in both his life and that of his father, is undeniable. Franklyn Vincent arrived in the United States as a Nigerian immigrant in 1980.
Since then, he has exposed his son to his Nigerian culture and heritage, creating a level of connectivity to Africa with his son Gabe— the youngest of three Vincent boys—that sheds light on where Vincent’s drive to be great, comes from.
Which is why Miami Heat fandom also consists of a swelling fan base from the second-largest continent—Africa—in the world.
And that’s a good thing for two major stockholders, teams and players, in the NBA’s continued expansion globally.
The league has made no secret about wanting to enhance its presence on the continent of Africa. That’s why you’re seeing a more consistent effort to have basketball-related activities in Africa, in addition to the league’s increased support for the Basketball Africa League (BAL).
As important as such endeavors to the overall growth and promise of basketball in Africa are, representation in the NBA right now, matters just as much.
That is why the Heat’s success is a story that’s so much more than the predictable overcoming adversity or ”no one believed in us” mantra that has been a major driving force to Miami’s remarkable success.
They are only the second team in NBA history to advance to the NBA Finals as an eighth-seeded team.
That in itself is impressive.
And to win it all, would indeed be a story we’re likely to see on the big screen sometime in the near future.
But there’s another story brewing with the Heat that’s just as important, provocative and unexpected.
And that’s the impact Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent are having on this series; a couple of young men who took very different basketball paths toward being impact NBA players, a journey that along the way also included them embracing their Nigerian heritage and on this stage, amplifying its value with their play.