Blessed by Basketball

Kelenna Azubuike, a Brit who learned how to play hoops in Tulsa, has gone from the NBA hardwood to the sidelines as a broadcaster.

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Kelenna Azubuike, London-born and Tulsa-raised, says he’s been blessed by basketball. And just seeing where the sport has taken him, his good fortune is quickly apparent.

As a sophomore, Azubuike led Victory Christian to the Oklahoma Class 3A title in 2000 and an appearance in the Class 4A championship game as a senior. After playing three seasons at the University of Kentucky, he logged 208 games in the NBA with Golden State and Dallas before retiring in 2012.

But he is not out of the game. Azubuike, 36, is in his first season as the color analyst for Golden State’s telecasts. He took this new role after four seasons in the studio during the Warriors’ pregame, halftime and postgame shows.

“It’s been really enjoyable,” he says. “I enjoy the studio stuff, but doing color during games is different and it’s fun to react real time to what’s going on. I’m always excited watching basketball. I just try to convey my excitement over the airwaves.”

Golden State, which has appeared in the NBA Finals for the past five seasons (winning thrice), has been devastated this year by severe injuries to superstars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson; the Warriors have one of the worst records in the league.

“People always say, ‘Well, [it’s] kind of a shame your first year went like this,’” Azubuike says. “It’s still basketball and there’s a lot to talk about. The guys play hard; they make games exciting. I’m still having a blast.”

Photo by Noah Graham courtesy NBAE/Warriors

The 6-foot-5 Azubuike hasn’t lived in Tulsa since he left for college in 2002; however, he says T-Town always has a special place in his heart.

“Tulsa was home for a long time. We enjoyed ourselves,” Azubuike says. “I started out playing soccer because we were from London and that was the sport we knew. I really thought I was going to do that the rest of my life.

“I fell in love with basketball when my brother started playing. It was rough for a while. I scored on the wrong basket. I dribbled the ball off my foot, but I kept working on my game and got pretty good at it. There are a lot of fond memories from Tulsa.”

In the years since he first started playing in Tulsa, basketball has taken him all over the world.

“Growing up, it obviously gave me something positive to focus my energy on,” Azubuike says. “It taught me discipline, hard work, teamwork, how to follow instructions, life lessons that you need in every arena. I never thought I’d go all over the world.

“Going to Kentucky, that was an experience. The Kentucky fans are incredible. I got to go to China with the Warriors. I got to go to Israel with the NBA and saw how basketball can really bring people together. I’ve been able to do charity work and different things because of basketball.

“It doesn’t really feel like a job. It still just feels like fun for me. I get to watch basketball and it’s really a blessing. I never take that for granted. I’m really grateful.”