A little less than 2 months ago Bellflower, California native Mike Nwabuzor (188-G-1996, college: NMHU) was toiling in North Macedonia for KK TFT Skopje and was playing his fourth professional season. The 188cm guard is one of those guys that you find at every corner in Europe. A highly talented guard that played JUCO and NCAA 2 and has a chip on his shoulder as heavy as Shaq must feel sitting on a 150 pound person. The guy has been grinding his whole career overseas and played 3 of his seasons in Germany and had an exceptional rookie season with BG Dorsten. Talented guards are so common around the world that finding jobs is a tough things and even more difficult when you haven’t played at the highest levels. But the California native will never slack or feel satisfied, because his chip on his shoulder will always be there. When you come from JUCO, you appreciate everything and take absolutely nothing for granted. ‘I’ve always been a type that had to start at the bottom and work my way up with basketball. I know soon I will be at the top, it just takes time. You have to fall in love with the process so that when you do reap the benefits, you don’t take them for granted’, warned Mike Nwabuzor. Some guys grind their whole career and don’t get rewarded while other guys here and there do get rewarded. For example take John Murry, a very talented guard not much different from Nwabuzor as both are walking buckets moved up two levels in Germany which isn’t very common. Nwabuzor is still waiting for that kind of reward, but last weekend he was rewarded in another way.’ At one point, it was me just me, Demar, and Bron in the hallway stretching getting ready for the game. It just let me know that I belong. I’ve always known that I do but that was the best confirmation that I could ever get. I’ll never forget that moment and I’ll use it to carry me forward for the rest of my career’, stressed Mike Nwabuzor.
It is no secret that if you hang around the gyms of Los Angeles and are lucky with the perfect timing then you might be able to catch a pick up game with NBA players. One place where you might be fortunate to catch some guys balling and enjoying their summers is at UCLA. It becomes even more of a treat if Lebron James is in the building. Mike Nwabuzor wasn’t a spectator which is a treat, but actually was on a team that was to play Lebron James in a Pro Am game. Being able to play on one of these teams is like a luxury because connections usually play a big role. The Drew League is probably the best known tournament during the summers and was established in 1973. It has rose in popularity over the years. It really rose to prominence during the NBA lock out in 2011 and has continued to grow over the years as 28 teams have participated. Over the last years some of the most notable have been Michael Cooper, Baron Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kobe Bryant and the list goes on and on. The list of NBA legends didn’t ebb this summer as Lebron James and DeMar DeRozan were to play. Any kid would die to play against a Lebron in 2022. In my time, it would have been Larry Bird, but just thinking about the chance to battle against a Lebron Jones has to be seriously mind boggling. Having that intense feeling of possibly playing against Lebron was already playing games with him days leading up to the game. ‘I personally heard rumors up to two days before the game but it was all speculation and I refused to believe any of it until I saw it for myself. It was confirmed the night before by Demar Derozan via Twitter and that’s when I knew it was time to get to it’, stated Mike Nwabuzor. Three and a half years ago, I remember asking Mike Nwabuzor that question that every baller has had the opportunity to answer. It is a lot easier for the older generation to pick a Michael Jordan over a Lebron James as the GOAT, but in the younger generation, it is Lebron that usually gets the title of GOAT. But then again there are some of the younger dudes that know where respect is due. ‘My favorite player is Lebron James , he inspired me to start playing basketball but the.best player of all time is Michael Jordan and there is no debate’, warned Mike Nwabuzor in 2019. But after playing against Lebron in 2022, where does he stand now with the difficult GOAT question? ‘Miles, you’re trying to get me in trouble with this question ! Bron inspired me to pick up a ball and play the game of basketball. He is the best ALL AROUND player of all time and that also means off the court as well. When it comes to true grit and will to win, I got Mike. This opinion stands’, stressed Mike Nwabuzor.
So it was Sunday July 17th, 2022 when the day finally arrived for Mike Nwabuzor where he would play against the best player on earth Lebron James. He must have been pinching himself a few days before and in the hours leading up to the jump ball. I mean only a few months ago he was in North Macedonia. I’m sure if someone had told him that a few months later that he would face off against Lebron, he would of probably chocked laughing. ‘ Man , I wouldn’t have believed it. Credits to the best summer Pro Am in the world , the Drew League, you never know who will pop out each summer so as much as it was a surprise, it wasn’t. It’s really an honor to be able to matchup with him and go toe to toe with him as a team and make him work for every bucket and work to actually get a win’, added Mike Nwabuzor. The first fans arrived at 6.30 am for the scheduled 1,45 game start at King-Drew Magnet High School. The ex BG Dorsten guard was playing for team Black Pearl Elite with some overseas players like Etan Alvano who played last season in Germany for Pro A team Eisbaeren Bremerhaven, Vince Camper, and Jayce Johnson who played at Utah (NCAA) along with Dion Wright who had played at St Bonaventure (NCAA). His high school teammates Alvano and Wright were key for him playing on the team. His opponent was the MMV cheaters led by Lebron James and DeMar DeRozan along with ex NBA player Caspar Ware who’s dad was a local basketball legend and poured in 47 points in a Drew League title game in 1987, Charles Jackson and Eugene Phelps who was Nwabuzor’s primary defender during the game and had made a name for himself in Mexico early in his pro career.
As should be when the king of basketball Lebron James enters the house, the ex Miami Heat received a hero’s welcome. ‘If you love this game, the atmosphere and energy in that gym is something that you’d do anything to be able to play in. When I saw him in the hallway while I was stretching , that was my moment of ‘okay that’s Bron’. After I got over that moment, when we got on the court, all I wanted was smoke and to go at him and DeMar just like anybody else that laces their shoes to play this game. The energy that the fans gave out only did wonders for us. We leveraged it in our favor and as a whole, we showed up and showed out’, remembered Mike Nwabuzor. I have seen Lebron James on TV and he looks like a monster. I also have seen him twice on a Boston street, but both times he was dressed for winter so his menacing figure wasn’t as present, but how is it when he is in shorts and his muscles are on showcase? I would say LeBron is definitely bigger in person than he looks on TV, obviously. He’s just a force and it’s truly a business decision if you want to get in the way and try to stop the freight train’, stated Mike Nwabuzor.
The American who believes that Kevin Durant hurt his legacy asking for a trade and thinks he and Kyrie Irving owe it to Brooklyn to try and get a title saw 2 world class players in Lebron and Demar, but wasn’t shy and just went out and played his game and conquered. Ok so Lebron and Demar had top games with 42/16 and 30/14, but the guard who played at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley held his own making a highlight film tape that any professional player outside the NBA would die for having 17 points, 8 boards, 7 dimes, 3 steals and 3 blocks. ‘I feel that I performed at a high level on the biggest stage and that speaks volumes about my preparation and the work I put into my craft. I played a full all around game , which is me in a nutshell. I’m a playmaker and defender that can score the basketball and get my teammates off as well. My one regret and probably biggest moment is coming down the line and taking off to dunk right in front of Bron and I missed the dunk by an inch. Ball went in the rim and popped out when I pulled the rim down. Other than that, great all around game. I was composed , confident , and strategic in my attack offensively and defensively’, expressed Mike Nwabuzor. Playing in a Drew League game has done wonders for lesser known guys over the years helping them get noticed better. There were a number of NBA and former NBA players in attendance like Draymond Green, Lakers forward Talen Horton-Tucker, Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn and Baron Davis. Not to mention agents and Gm’s from NBA teams. His positive versatile game definitely didn’t hurt his chances. ‘I definitely let people know what was known by my close ones already. I can play with the best of them, any day, any place , any time. My route to becoming a professional wasn’t the prettiest , going JUCO/D1/D2 and it sometimes takes away from the respect I deserve. This game helped me to display my full bag of talent and the many things I can do on the basketball court to help teams win games and championships. There were many important people there. Draymond Green, Quavo, and Montrezz Harrell were some that I actually had some good back and forth with’, commented Mike Nwabuzor.
The game went down to the wire and then came that moment every baller dreams of. No Larry Bird trash talk, but some friendly banter/trash talk from him in the direction of Lebron who was at the free throw line. ‘My biggest memory of the game is walking up to Bron while he’s at the free throw line at the end of the game in crunch time and telling him ‘I know you good for one, give me one’, talking about a free throw miss. Best part was , he actually smoked the second one and gave us a chance to come down and almost tie the game. I was guarding DeMar a majority of the game and did really well. He only scored 2 jumpers on me. I was so locked in on DeMar, I didn’t get a chance to switch on to Bron defensively like I wanted to. When we got in between those lines, Bron was just another opponent for me. So it wasn’t a big deal to ask him to smoke a free throw. I’m always the type to say small things like that to try to get in guy’s head’s and rattle them under pressure. I said it to him and he didn’t flinch, but he missed one so I will assume it clearly bothered him”, remembered Mike Nwabuzor. But that wasn’t the only response that he got from Lebron during the game. It may have been a meaningless game, but Lebron had his game face the whole time. ‘Lebron was very stoic the whole game. I did get a response out of him mid game when I asked him did his teammate get fouled on a certain play because it was a bad call and he said ‘ hell nah’ . Other than that , it was too much going on and he was locked in. I’ll give him that’, said Mike Nwabuzor. Another great NBA player with Kyrie Irving was slated to also appear, but at the end was a no show. Of course it would have been a highlight if he could of faced off against Uncle Drew, but in the end he had met exactly who he had wanted to really see with Lebron. ‘I was so locked in on Bron and Demar that if Kyrie showed , it was a plus but if not it’s all good. I would’ve have loved to guard him and test out how good my defense is against his handle and creativity. Personally I watch a lot of Kyrie every day just because before anything , I am a fan and lover of the game of basketball. So it would be fun to guard him and see what of his moves that I study would work and what wouldn’t’, added Mike Nwabuzor. Oh by the way Lebron and co won a nail bitter 104-102.
So 24 hours after his encounter with Lebron James, I remind the guard who believes that currently Steph Curry is the second best point guard of all-time after Magic Johnson about something he had told me in 2019 in his rookie season in Dorsten, Germany. He told me that the best player that he had ever faced then had been Rob Gray form the University of Houston who was a walking bucket. Now it was obvious that he had removed Gray from the best he had ever faced in his career. ‘Many things can happen in 3.5 years. It’s safe to say Lebron James is the best player that I’ve played against to date , for sure. Lebron James isn’t just a walking bucket, he’s an all around basketball player which makes him one of the greatest if not the greatest to ever play the sport’, stressed Mike Nwabuzor. It will be interesting to see where he lands next season and if his Drew League encounter against Lebron and potent game have an effect on clubs. ‘I’m really open to playing anywhere that makes sense and will value me the most as a player’, warned Mike Nwabuzor. His goal for next season is to play in Germany in the BBL or Pro A or in France in the Pro A or Pro B. I wonder if someone rewards his great Drew League performance. He may have that ultra ultra grand children story for the ages, but I know that he isn’t satisfied yet. He never will be. He wants many new grand children stories from overseas from top leagues that he will always strive to reach.