What comes to mind when I say the word Dynasty? Understandably, we will all come to our own definitions of what a dynasty is but regardless of what that means for you, it surely entails winning for a sustained period of time.
In sports, only serial winners who have truly dominated their respective disciplines for an extended period of time get to be crowned with the mantra, “Dynasty” and it’s for a good reason.
As I sat in the Lugogo MTN Arena to watch Game 1 of the just concluded National Basketball League playoff finals, it did not take much to feel a real sense of tension that was more than palpable. Much more so if you were a fan of the not-so-beloved by many City Oilers Basketball Club.
The search was underway for title number eight, eight straight league titles! Yes, you read that right, eighty straight league titles! Much like the greatly heralded Chicago Bulls of the great and indomitable Michael Jordan, the Oilers have done it in succession. Only they had, even before the final whistle, done it one better and for consecutive seasons without skipping a heartbeat. Running it back as if their names were deeply engrained into the very etches of the NBL Division I title by design.
In the playoff finals this year, they faced their biggest hurdle to attaining yet another crown to their already illustrious trophy cabinet in the form of the Namuwongo Blazers under the stewardship of Stephen Nyeko.
What we didn’t know then was the rollercoaster ride that awaited each and every one of us fans who had thronged the Arena that fateful day as we all sought to witness a clash of Uganda’s basketball Titans as they sought to be crowned champions. In one corner you had the evergreen City Oilers seeking an unprecedented eighth title and in the other corner, you had the Namuwongo “Trail” Blazers who sought to usurp the reigning champions. They sought to claim the scalp that had thus far eluded four challengers before them.
What followed will, in my view, stand the test of time as one of the most highly entertaining and hotly contested finals in NBL Division I history. City Oilers went about their business as usual racing to a 3-1 lead which for most signalled the end of any challenge to their crown as reigning champions. In their usual bullish self-closing out tight games as their opponents seemed to falter at key moments across different contests. Many at this point had written off the Namuwongo Blazers as just another victim of the City Oilers’ unending pursuit for greatness.
But the Blazers just wouldn’t go away. They had other ideas. They were assembled arguably as the team to put an end to the reign of the City Oilers as the most dominant team in Uganda Basketball and they put the City Oilers to the sword through games 5 and 6. An aggressive defense and high-octane offense ensured that they, through sheer grit and willpower, forced a game seven, refusing to let what had been an otherwise great season come to an abrupt end. Amisi Saidi (Carmelo) rowed his boat, David Deng Dikong played like a man on a mission, Paul Odong (McGyver) was ever slicing through traffic like a hot knife through butter, Christopher Omanye attacked the rim like only he could, Ariel Okall (The Doctor) operated ever skilfully in the mid-range and Daniel Manoja did the unseen and often unheralded work to ensure that the Oilers were not going to lift the NBL title without a fight.
So entertaining were the finals, the story woven, the intrigue, the hype, and all-round great play by both teams that Game 7 was literally the hottest ticket in town. Much like the games before it, Game 7 was a great contest, watching it felt like watching heavyweights taking centre stage trading blows as neither side wanted to give an edge, an inch of breathing room for their opponent lest he gains an upper hand in the contest. No basket went unanswered, no error was unpunished, and every loose ball was fought for in an intense contest.
For forty minutes, every man who took his place on the court fought tooth and nail for a chance to lift the title. So crucial was this game that Jimmy Enabu, injured and not featuring in previous games, put his body through the grinder making athletic plays that left him visibly shaken. Drileba carrying a lingering injury from earlier on in the postseason aggravated it but still took to the floor and was rewarded for his efforts with crucial points at key moments of the game. Dikong, a standout for previous games in the finals, was still at it making big plays both on the offensive and defensive end with critical run-down blocks at key points throughout the game to keep his side in it.
Game 7 went down to the very last play of the game. Dikong narrowly missed a three-pointer that would have resulted in a four-point play walked up to the line. Having shot two for two, the Blazers opted for a miss with time running out and it paid off when McGyver took a hold of the ball and hoisted it back up, a play that if successful was sending the game to overtime. At that moment the whole Arena held its collective breath. But alas, the ball fortunately for the City Oilers flattered with the rim eventually bouncing out and ensuring that as the buzzer sounded off they were crowned the 2022 NBL Division I Champions. And champions for a record eighth time. A feat made only more impressive considering they as a club are only 11 years old having been founded in the NBL Division III in 2011.
Some might argue the insufferable close calls, the disparity in talent pools and financial resources with which the City Oilers have been so richly blessed. Yet I can’t help but think back on a number of organizations that in the normative sense had similar backing at different points throughout their existence. Yes, I’m talking about the mighty Power, the now non-existent Warriors, and other stalwarts of the beautiful game of basketball in our country. Yet none have managed to quite pull off what the Oilers have done, all the way making it look simple. That in itself is a terribly daunting task.
One looks for whom to crown the glory, be it the management or the immaculate talent they have managed to gather around or the ever-present Mandy Juruni cutting a confident stance as he directs his forces to go to work. I say crown them all. This is an organization that has almost single-handedly elevated what it means to be a sports franchise at the very least within the basketball world in Uganda and if not throughout the sports fraternity at large. What they have managed to accomplish since their inaugural year in Division III back in 2011 to date is nothing short of astounding. Amassing eight championships in any sports discipline is a remarkable feat. Going about it the way that the City Oilers have done is something extremely special.
When all is said and done, the City Oilers have given the Nation a blueprint of what a successful sports organization must look like. An example many other organizations, irrelevant of the sports disciplines in which they find themselves, can and must look to build upon if they are to succeed. We are a Nation passionate about sports and gifted with talent in various disciplines. But to realize growth across the sports sector we must be intentional about it. Organization breeds culture, confidence, and success and all the fore stated are things sponsors will always be on the lookout for. The world has never invested as much money as it does in sports as in this day and age. Why can’t we as a Nation look to profit from that which we already evidently love?