Former national basketball player Ademola Okulaja has died at the age of 46 after a long, serious illness. Okulaja played 172 times for Germany and in 2002 won the bronze medal at the World Cup with Dirk Nowitzki’s team (43).
Born in Nigeria and nicknamed “The Warrior”, he grew up in Berlin. In his youth, Okulaja played for Alba Berlin, among others, before moving to college in North Carolina. There he played for the Tar Heels for four years before moving back to Alba. Later he was under contract with FC Barcelona, among others, as well as in Treviso and Chimki/Russia. There is no clarity on the cause of death so far.
The German Basketball Federation (DBB) reacted with “stunned horror” to the news of the death of the long-time national player, according to a statement from the association. “We are devastated and cannot believe Ademola’s death. Our thoughts are now with his family, who we wish a lot of strength. Ademola was as great a player as he was a human. I personally lost a great basketball friend and will miss him dearly. We will always fondly remember the struggling and never giving up Ademola who always left everything on the field. May he rest in peace,” said DBB President Ingo Weiss.
NBA legend Vince Carter (45) was also shocked by Okulaja’s death. The former US superstar had played with Okulaja at the Tar Heels. Now Carter mourned on Twitter, writing, among other things: “It’s so painful … we will miss you, my boy.”
In 2008, a tumor was discovered in his seventh thoracic vertebra. He later told Stern about the chemotherapy: “The two weeks were damn hard for me, the hardest fight I’ve ever experienced.” The tumor had broken the vertebra, Okulaja got a titanium vertebra. In 2009, the cancer was gone from his body. Most recently he worked as a consultant and event manager. Okulaja leaves behind a wife and two sons.