What you need to know:
- US-based coach rose from Mathare slums to represent Kenya in 1987 All Africa Games on his way to reaching dizzying heights in basketball, including entering record books for his free-styling and dribbling wizardry.
- As a player, he missed out on a chance to play in the NBA due to his height. He is now occupied with nurturing future stars of the game.
When you first come across Joe “the trickster” Odhiambo, you would mistake him for just another ordinary tall fella. But wait till you hear his story and his achievements, and you are left wanting to hear more from the lanky dark man.
I could not believe my ears as he described his achievements to me at Nation Centre last Tuesday. It sounded so unbelievable that one can achieve so much in very little time.
Odhiambo holds five basketball handling Guinness World Records, which he has either set, tied or broken 14 times between 2006 and 2008.
These are dribbling six basketballs simultaneously for one minute, spinning one basketball for the longest using both hands, dribbling one basketball for the longest time, juggling three basketballs while shooting the most layups in one minute and spinning a basketball the longest with one hand only.
These achievements have propelled him to international fame as he is recognised as a leader in the world of basketball free-styling and dribbling.
But his story, just like many others, started from a humble back ground.
“I started from very humble beginnings in Mathare Valley slums in Nairobi and it was here where my love for basketball was born,” he tells me.
“My interest for basketball started while I was in class six at St Teresa’s Primary School in Eastleigh (in Nairobi). We played other sports but basketball was appealing and fashionable at that point,” he recalls.
“However, there was a catch for them to continue playing the sport as they were required to attend Bible Study sessions.
“Father Grolin saw that the only way to get us to grow spiritually was to threaten to take away the one thing that we loved and because we could do anything to play the sport, we obliged and attended Bible Study.
While out of school, he played for a local club known as Eastleigh Bucks and his prowess earned him many enemies who felt intimidated by his brilliance on the court.
This saw him chased away from the court, and he was sidelined a number of times.
“This did not put me down because I knew I was good and the only way to improve my game was to continue playing,” the 54-year-old recalls.
Joe joined St Teresa’s High School and his impact was immediately felt as he led the school to win three straight national basketball titles from 1982, 1983 and 1984. He would later move to St Patrick’s Iten and led them to titles in 1985 and 1986.
While in secondary school, Odhiambo had already been called up to the national junior team, and a call-up to the senior team soon followed.
MADE HIS DEBUT
He made his senior debut during the 1987 All Africa Games at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
Kenya claimed bronze behind eventual winners Angola and Senegal, and Odhiambo admits the team should have won gold.
Some of his teammates are current Strathmore women’s basketball team coach and former national team coach Ronnie Owino, Joseph Amoko, the current Kenya Basketball Federation Fixtures Secretary as well as Thomas “Smarts” Olumbo among others.
“I think we had the best squad and only lost out due to some poor decisions that could have been avoided,” he says.
He played for Kenya Airways and Central Bank of Kenya clubs, leading both clubs to national titles before they were disbanded.
His skills saw him earn a scholarship to study computer science and mathematics at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona in 1989 and also play basketball at the same time.
He would later return to complete a Masters degree in education.
While at Canyon, he played varsity basketball, leading his team to several State Championship titles and scouts came calling ready to have him sign up for the NBA.
However, there was just one problem, Odhiambo, standing at 6’3,” fell just short of the 6'10 height required for a guard in the NBA.
“I was disappointed because I had always dreamt about playing in the NBA, it was everyone’s dream and mine ended before it even started,” he recalls.
After college, he worked as a computer programmer and statistic analyst.
He resigned three years later to become a motivational speaker, and basketball coach.
Coach Odhiambo developed a training regimen that allowed him to build his basketballs handling platform in two years.
Practicing four to six hours a day, he learnt more than 200 tricks, including tying the Guinness World Record of dribbling four basketballs simultaneously.
Since then, he has added more than 500 tricks using up to 24 basketballs.
“I put the disappointment of not playing in the NBA behind and decided to perfect my skills of the court and try on the records,” he says.
In between, he lost his dad in 1994 and this made him lose interest in teaching as he sought some time off to mourn.
“His death affected me in some way and I took a break from teaching and just wanted to be left alone. Thank God there was basketball to get me back on my feet and provide some refuge at that trying moment,” he reflects.
BROKE MORE RECORDS
It is after that he returned to break the amazing records which have earned him so much respect and praise globally.
He is currently the director of “Triple T Basketball Skills and Entertainment, Inc.”, an independent organisation specialising in conducting clinics, camps, workshops, and motivational talks on what it takes to succeed through practice.
As one of the most sought after motivational speaker, coach, and a celebrated basketball handling demonstrator, Odhiambo has acclamation as one of the world’s best basketball dribblers.
Coach Odhiambo’s free-style basketball handling accomplishments have been published in various newspapers and magazines around the world, the most notables being The Guinness Book of Records.
Other publications which have captured his heroics include Arizona Republic Newspaper (Phoenix, Arizona); The Tribune Newspaper (Mesa, Arizona); Highway Magazine, Alternative World Records (Germany); and Ripley’s World Records.
RECEIVED AN AWARD
Odhiambo’s unique basketball handling skills have also been featured on Guinness: Primetime (Spain and Brazil); Ripley’s Believe it or Not, British television show Sports Tonight with Mark Curtis (NBC affiliate Arizona), Suns’ Jam Session (UPN 45), Good Morning and Evening Arizona (News Channel-3, TV Arizona), and Morning News on CBS (Arizona).
In 2003, Odhiambo received News Channel-3 TV award for Outstanding Athlete for the month of January for his outstanding work with kNowtobacco programme at local schools in Arizona.
He is saddened by the state of basketball in Kenya, and wants to work towards returning the sport back to the top.
He is of the opinion that the current Kenya Basketball Federation officials are only a bunch of selfish individuals out to enrich themselves at the expense of others.
“It is sad that people in a position to help the masses are only thinking about how they can make some quick money while the sport suffers.
“It is shameful to hear that we are losing to the likes of Uganda, Rwanda Somalia and South Sudan. These are countries would not even rank with us in my time,” he adds.
Odhiambo, who is in the country until next month, is planning to give back to the society and wants to scout for talent, especially tall players who do not get the chance at furthering their basketball careers.
“I hope my story of rising from Mathare Valley can be an inspiration to many youth that they should never stop believing. I will work to ensure that tall players who get ridiculed secure scholarships and in turn they should give back and assist others," he revealed.
He admires current Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant in the NBA and is hoping that Kenyans will also make their debut in the NBA some day.
“Durant is such an amazing fellow, so down-to-earth and has a great personality on top of his prowess on the court,” he says.
“Big Joe,” as he is fondly referred to, reveals that the one thing he misses about Kenya is Kenyan food, particularly ugali and fish. He never misses a chance to catch up on his two delicacies and is drawn to any basketball court he comes across. He has had the time to catch up with his mother as well as his siblings- two brothers and two sisters - before he heads back to USA.
Asked about his marriage life, Odhiambo shrugs off the question before saying that he is married to basketball and the kids he is helping.
“Well if you are able to get married go ahead and do it, if it is not possible then you can also make a difference in whatever capacity,” he says.
He looks at his watch many times, a hint that he is running out of time after our interview. He is possibly heading to a nearby basketball court.