By STEPHEN RUIZ
Chris Kaman started it.
When Magic forward Al-Farouq Aminu entered the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2010, he stood in front of the team and talked about himself as part of his indoctrination into the league. One of the factoids that Aminu mentioned was that his surname, Oloyede, means “Chief has arrived” in his family’s native Nigeria.
Thus, a nickname was born.
Kaman was the first to call Aminu Chief, and he seldom resisted an opportunity to inform teammates and others of the moniker’s origin. Aminu and Kaman were teammates in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Portland, so the word easily spread.
“Every time I would try to introduce myself, [Kaman] was like, ‘You should just call him Chief,’’’ Aminu said recently at the Magic’s practice facility in Amway Center. “It just kind of stuck. After a while, I started liking it and appreciating it. Now I go by it, so it works.”
Aminu, 29, might be the Chief.
His paternal grandfather, Oba Salawu Aminu, though, was a king in the Nigerian city of Ibadan during the 1960s and ’70s.
“The simplest way to put it is that [he] was just like a mayor,” said Al-Farouq’s father, Aboubakar Aminu. “We got to do a lot of things. We got to see him preside over the political and local issues. We got to travel, and I got a chance to come to the United States.”
Aboubakar arrived in America in 1984 to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta, where Al-Farouq was born. He is the middle of three brothers, two of whom played basketball in the ACC — Al-Farouq at Wake Forest and his older sibling, Alade, at Georgia Tech.
The Clippers drafted Aminu with the eighth overall selection nine years ago, but he only lasted one season in Los Angeles before he was jettisoned as part of the Chris Paul trade to New Orleans.
Three seasons later, he signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Aminu played there for one season before joining the Trail Blazers, who provided him with his most stable NBA home so far. Aminu was with Portland for four seasons before signing a three-year contract worth a reported $29 million with the Magic in July.
“There’s a ton of great things about Al-Farouq,” Orlando forward Aaron Gordon said. “He’s a consistent defensive player. He is where he is supposed to be when he is supposed to be there. He can play a multitude of positions. He has an opportunity here to be a very instrumental part of how we operate.”
During 670 NBA games, Aminu is averaging 7.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and is a career 33.7% shooter from 3-point range.
“He is an experienced, intelligent professional player who can play well at both ends of the floor,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “He fits very well into our group.”
Aminu never met his grandfather, who died before he was born.
He learned about him through remembrances at family gatherings. He discovered his grandfather presided over one of the largest cities in Nigeria. Ibadan’s current population is more than 3 million people, but it was much smaller when Aminu’s grandfather reigned.
“Having a different name than most Americans growing up, it was weird because I didn’t want to be called it,” Al-Farouq said. “You just want to fit in as a kid, but I remember my dad and my mom used to keep pictures on the wall, [as if] to say, ‘Your grandfather was a king. You should be happy about your name,’ and different things like that. It was super cool.”
“I feel like this is what we were put here to do, for us to use our platform to give back and to help. It makes us a lot more grateful. It’s life-changing.”HELINA AMINU, WIFE OF MAGIC FORWARD AL-FAROUQ AMINU, ON THEIR FOUNDATION THAT HELPS YOUTH IN NIGERIA
It got cooler once Al-Farouq visited the palace, which he has done several times, and saw a street named after his family.
The road sign indicated how respected his grandfather was.
“He was very loving, kind, generous,” Aboubakar said. “He loved for us to be around him, especially when he’s at home. We sit around, and he would tell us stories. It was fun growing up with my dad. I really do miss him.”
Al-Farouq and his wife, Helina, return to Nigeria annually.
In 2016, they created the Aminu Good Works Foundation, which holds youth basketball camps in the West African nation, works with an orphanage to provide food for a hundred children there and offers educational opportunities, including in the arts.
A school and academy are planned.
“I feel like this is what we were put here to do, for us to use our platform to give back and to help,” said Helina, adding the foundation would like to eventually branch out into Ethiopia and Jamaica. “It makes us a lot more grateful. It’s life-changing.”
Having a 6-foot-9 professional basketball player front and center does not hurt with outreach.
“When we go, we make sure to stay at the same hotel as the children,” Helina said. “I feel like he’s more human. A lot of people in Nigeria that are well off, they’re not really out there with everybody else. People get to see him and touch him. They get to connect with him.”
Now it’s the Magic’s turn.
While Aminu’s nickname is familiar throughout the league — he is about to begin season No. 10 in the NBA, second on the Magic only behind 12-year veteran D.J. Augustin — some still might need to be clued in on his family’s history.
Clifford said he was not aware that the lineage of the Magic’s top offseason free-agent acquisition included a king.
Neither did center Nikola Vucevic.
“I had no idea, but I’ll definitely ask him about it and read about it now that you mentioned it,” Vucevic said.
Said Aminu: “[It’s] just a sense of pride.”
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