Remarks by Larry André, Chargé d’Affaires at the Welcome Home Reception for Memphis Grizzlies Player Hasheem Thabeet
Venue: Residence of the Chargé d’Affaires - August 17, 2009
Mr. Leonard Thadeo, Director of Sports from the Ministry of Information, Culture and Sports, leaders in Tanzania’s sports, culture and media, diplomatic colleagues, mabibi and mabwana
It is a pleasure and honor to host this distinguished audience to my home tonight. Thank you for joining us to welcome home one of Tanzania’s fastest-rising young stars -- Hasheem Thabeet. I would like to especially welcome Mrs. Rukia Thabeet Manka, Hasheem’s mother, and all his family here today, along with his many friends.
Along with so many people throughout Tanzania, we watched with anticipation and excitement this year’s selection for new players to the world’s premier basketball league, America’s National Basketball Association. That night in late June, we cheered as Hasheem was selected as the first round number two overall draft pick to the Memphis Grizzlies.
As the first Tanzanian to be drafted into the NBA, we were elated at Hasheem’s success. What better ambassador of sport between the United States and Tanzania could there be than a young man who grew up in Sinza, Dar es Salaam, was an exchange student and athlete at the University of Connecticut, and now has been selected to play profession basketball in the United States?
Adding to the excitement was our knowledge of Hasheem as a person. Mr. Thabeet has been a friend of our embassy for many years, and has generously donated his time and talents to help spread his message of success through hard work.
In one example of his selflessness and true sportsmanship, when Hasheem visited Tanzania last year, he volunteered to speak to young Tanzanians preparing to depart for study at U.S. colleges and universities. He shared his experiences balancing sports with his class work, and inspired some bright, young Tanzanians to reach their fullest potential during their opportunity to attend U.S. universities
Hasheem’s success shows how hard work and determination can allow anyone to achieve his or her greatest dream. Sports, like music, design, and visual arts, show us that in open, free societies, such as the United States and Tanzania, great success can come to those who work hard to achieve their goals, not only to those born into privilege. Indeed societies prosper to the extent to which achievement is available to all and not limited to a chosen few. All sectors of American and Tanzanian society can learn from our athletes the valuable lesson of aligning rewards with individual achievement.
Sports can level the playing field, allowing people from all backgrounds, economic status and faiths the same opportunity to reach the highest heights of their craft, as athletes are judged by how they perform, not where they come from or who they may know. When we participate in sports internationally, our commonness is affirmed in a manner that no political speech can express. Sports then, truly, is a universal language.
Hasheem’s success in basketball has meant that more and more young Tanzanians are now interested in playing basketball. To encourage this, the U.S. Mission to Tanzania is working closely with the Tanzania Basketball Federation and Basketball Dar to further promote basketball in Tanzania.
Last September, the U.S. Mission in collaboration with dedicated local partners brought to Tanzania American Olympic Gold Medallist in Women’s Basketball Jennifer Azzi, also an All-Star in the WNBA, as well as Matt Bonner, a Forward for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. The players conducted basketball clinics for members of the Tanzania basketball team and local coaches and secondary school students.
Because of the excitement both in Tanzania and in the U.S. in basketball, encouraged by both President Obama and President Kikwete’s great love of the sport, I would like to announce another basketball opportunity that the embassy is working on with our local partners. In September, we plan to conduct a basketball clinic for a select number of coaches in the United States, fully funded by the American people. We expect the benefits of this coaches clinic to pay rewards throughout Tanzania for many years to come, as new players are encouraged by their dedicated and experienced coaches.
Hasheem, your success as the first Tanzanian ever to be drafted into the National Basketball Association has opened a new aspect of the partnership between the United Republic of Tanzania and the United States of America. It is my honor to salute you tonight for your great success, brought about through your hard work and dedication to your game. Hongera sana.