There are still certain places in the world that seem to exist vividly in the imagination, exotic locations that might cause any writer's pulse to quicken at the prospect of a visit. So it was last month when Senior Writer Curry Kirkpatrick learned he would be going to Africa for this week's profile of super Center Akeem Abdul Olajuwon (page 106), the young Nigerian who plays for Houston and who suddenly became a dominant college basketball player last season.
When Olajuwon heard that Kirkpatrick was planning a visit to his homeland, he bought shoes and shirts in Houston for two of his younger brothers in Lagos and gave them to Curry to deliver. The brothers were delighted with the gifts, and in return Kaka Olajuwon, an older stepbrother, presented our man with a flowing brown dashiki.
Olajuwon had also suggested to Kirkpatrick that he try to find a boyhood hero of his named Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a jazz musician and kind of religious mystic. So Curry and photographer Bill Campbell, once a backup guitarist for Linda Ronstadt's band, set out with a driver one night on a pilgrimage to find Fela. "Fela has a combination club/shrine in the deepest and darkest part of Lagos," Kirkpatrick says. "It's an unusual place." At the door to the shrine, Fela's concessionaire has religious pamphlets for sale with, as Kirkpatrick was somewhat surprised to see, "pictures of this incredible topless woman on them."
Kirkpatrick brought back a Fela album entitled Original Suffer Head, but he almost paid dearly for it. On the way back from the shrine, the car in which Kirkpatrick and Campbell were riding was stopped by a soldier. "He came up waving a submachine gun at us," Kirkpatrick says. It seems that their driver had forgotten to turn on his headlights.
While doing further research for the Olajuwon story, Kirkpatrick encountered some other notable Africans—most of them, oddly enough, in Texas. He discovered a player at Houston Baptist who comes from the Central African Republic and has Kirkpatrick's "favorite name in history"—Anicet Lavodrama. There was also a Nigerian friend of Olajuwon's, the legendary Yommy Sangodeyi, a 6'10" power forward at Sam Houston State. Sangodeyi is known in Nigeria as Yommy Basket for his exploits on the court. That led some friends of Kirkpatrick's to start calling him Curry Basket. The name stuck, and "That's how I want to be known from now on," Kirkpatrick says.
O.K. Considering that he's written extensively on college basketball during his 18 years at SI, Curry Basket is not a bad handle.
CURRY BASKET TAKES IN A GAME ON HIS TRIP TO NIGERIA