From Professional Basketball Player to Basketball Academy Owner

【Interview with Ikenna Nwankwo, Founder of Top Flight Basketball】

Ikenna Nwankwo is a former professional basketball player who established a basketball academy called Top Flight Basketball. With Top Flight, Nwankwo aims to run a basketball school that offers not only top-notch coaching, but also teaches children the important lessons about life.

Nwankwo’s basketball journey spanned almost 30 years, with 15 of those years spent playing professional basketball all over the world. He played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in America with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Cleveland Cavaliers; in European leagues in Spain, Turkey, Portugal and Poland; and in Asia in Thailand as well. “I actually started playing basketball when I was 7 years old. Football was initially my first passion. I loved playing football when I was young, but then I grew so much taller than the other children and I was forced to play basketball. At first, I didn’t want to play. I was crying and not willing to practice on the first few days. After going to practice and playing more, I started to fall in love with the game. I still remember the first time I saw Michael Jordan to play, and he became my inspiration. I knew then that basketball was really the sport for me.” says Nwankwo.


Being tall gave Nwankwo a huge advantage on his basketball journey. However his success in basketball was not built on just the fact that he is tall, but also on his love of the competitive and teamwork-based aspects of the game. “Basketball is more than an individual game - you can’t just focus on yourself. I like the idea of working together with the team towards a common goal. Teamwork is an extremely important part of playing basketball.” Basketball gave Nwankwo a lot of lessons as well as many great memories. It is the sport which took him all over the world. The winning of the NCAA championship in college and the European championship in his professional career were some of his most unforgettable experiences and greatest accomplishments. “Being able to play with the Los Angeles Lakers was always a dream come true for me,” Nwankwo added. Talking about the challenges of being an athlete, Nwankwo mentioned his family. “It was definitely challenging to be away from my family. Sometimes the season was so long and my body was hard to maintain. I always missed my family and wanted to be home. But it’s all worthwhile because there is no other sport that I have the same kind of passion for other than basketball.”

In the last year of his professional career in Thailand, Nwankwo suffered from injuries that left him unable to continue playing. Since he still wanted to be involved in basketball, he started to coach basketball camps in different schools. Nwankwo then realized that there was a good opportunity for him to run a basketball school in Thailand. Top Flight Basketball was established and the academy has grown to cover 12 schools and about 1,000 students in Thailand now. In 2014, Nwankwo was invited to run some basketball camps at Chinese International School in Hong Kong. The response in Hong Kong was great, and children enjoyed his camps immensely. As a result, in 2016 Nwankwo started to run the Top Flight Basketball programme in Hong Kong.


“At Top Flight, our programme not only teaches students the fundamental skills of the game of basketball – passing, dribbling, shooting - but we also give kids the important lessons of life, such as teamwork, cooperation, goal setting for yourself, hard work, and determination,” says Nwankwo. “Most of the students don’t want to be a professional basketball player, but the lessons they learn from basketball are the important ones that help them in their lives.” In addition to general basketball training, Top Flight also gives children the opportunity to join competitions. Coaches pick the best students in the programme and put them onto the Top Flight Elite Team to compete against the best teams in the region.

Having now run the basketball academy in Hong Kong for two years, Nwankwo is impressed with the competitive culture here. “The sports culture here in Hong Kong is healthy and strong, and I believe it’s getting stronger. There is a love for the game, and people really like competitions,” says Nwankwo. However, Hong Kong has not yet reached the same level of competitiveness compared to other countries like the United States where there is an extremely strong sports culture. This is because many parents in Hong Kong want their children to focus more on academics. Nwankwo points out that parents should encourage children to participate more in sports. “This is not necessarily with basketball but with any sport. Sports benefit kids in several ways. They’ll learn how to socialize better and to work with others better. It helps with their overall health too. Sports actually plays a huge role in child development.”


Looking to the future, Nwankwo is very excited about his plans for Top Flight. “I’d love to have Top Flight Basketball grow in Hong Kong. I target to have the programme running in more schools, and want to be able to work with as many kids as possible.” Being a member of, Nwankwo believes the platform can definitely help in promoting his business. “Word of mouth is always one of the strongest ways. Advertising or promotions on social media is great, but it’s not like hearing from someone else or friends that you trust.”


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