Basketball is not the first sport that springs to mind when you think about Zimbabwe, but the game is more popular than you would think. In a sporting world dominated by football, one Zimbabwe man is attempting to give back to the community and change people’s lives through the medium of basketball.
Players who reach the top of their trade in basketball and make it to the NBA enjoy unimaginable riches. The average salary in the NBA stands at a staggering US$7.9 million per year; compare that to the wages back in Zimbabwe. Unsurprisingly, many Zimbabweans are dreaming of playing in the NBA. Several Zimbabweans have competed for colleges and had their names highlighted in the online March Madness betting markets over the years, but there has never been a Zimbabwe native who has played in basketball’s biggest league.
Almost Making It To The NBA
Vitalis Chikoko is the closest any Zimbabwe player has come to playing in the NBA. The Harare-born 6ft 10in star went undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft, but the Houston Rockets signed him for their summer league. He played four games but was released shortly after; he now plays professionally in France.
Julian Mavunga went undrafted the year before Chikoko, but the Indiana Pacers signed him for their summer league. He turned out six times for the Pacers, but they released him. Mavunga has since played professionally around Europe but now competes in Japan’s B.League.
Harare Native Giving Back to the Community
Watida Mukukula is a young Zimbabwe native hoping to use basketball to change the lives of people less fortunate than he. Mukukula was born in Harare but now resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the United States of America, where he studies Film/Media and Business Economics at the Franklin and Marshall College. It is fair to say Mukukula has enjoyed a better start to life than most Zimbabweans his age, which spurs him on to give something back to the community.
Mukukula played for the Franklin and Marshall College during his freshman year; he is eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft but is likely to go undrafted due to a lack of time on the court in past seasons. However, he is determined to use the game of basketball to improve the lives of children who want something to aspire to. When he graduates, Mukukula will be the first member of his family to earn a college degree, something he is immensely proud of. His college statement ends, “Life for thousands in my country is horrible, and a lot needs to change. My goal is to succeed in order to be the change my country needs.”
Being heavily involved in Hoops 4 Hope is one way Mukukula is helping change the world for young Zimbabweans. Hoops 4 Hope is a non-profit organisation working with kids from the age of six in the poorest areas of Zimbabwe and South Africa. The charity teaches underprivileged children essential life skills through basketball that they may miss out on due to a lack of traditional education or a lack of opportunities.
Teaching Kids Important Life Skills
More than 800 children attend Hoop 4 Hopes’ after-school programs, and more than 13,000 children benefit from the charity each and every year. Mukukula’s father is involved in Hoops 4 Hope and helps provide over 20,000 hours of working with youths in the community annually. Mukukula has personally delivered more than 1,000 hours of coaching despite his United States residency.
Those attending Hoops 4 Hopes programs learn the seven tools of an Ubuntu champion: teamwork, responsibility, self-esteem, self-awareness, integrity, sense of humour, and focus. Knowing these critical life skills helps prepare the youngsters for later life and helps shape them as amazing human beings. It is a fantastic cause and one that shows how powerful sports can be if people get the chance to play them.