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Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent’s play inspires his father and Nigeria

Son of Nigerian immigrant has gone from G League gunslinger to starting point guard in the NBA Finals

DENVER – Franklyn Vincent left Nigeria for the United States in 1980 to receive a quality education and a goal and mission to “better himself.”

The California State University, Stanislaus professor accomplished those goals by earning a doctorate in psychology, marrying his wife, Cynthia, and becoming the father of three boys. If Vincent’s youngest son Gabe reaches his goal of winning his first NBA title with the Miami Heat, he will inspire Nigerians, Africans and young fans worldwide who yearn for success despite the odds stacked against them.

“He’s come a long way,” Franklyn Vincent told Andscape. “He’s gone through lots of struggles. He’s very tenacious. Determined. Very principled. What else can I say? He’s an all-around nice young man. I couldn’t be more of a proud dad to see my son in that situation.

“Like any journey, there are trials and tribulations. I’m just happy that he stayed focused and was already to play his role. I was also happy for him.”

Vincent and the underdog Heat are now tied at 1-1 with the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Finals after a gritty 111-108 Game 2 victory on Sunday night in the best-of-seven series. Vincent scored a game-high 23 points in Miami’s win while also nailing 4 3-pointers, dishing 3 assists and snatching 2 steals in 32 minutes. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound point guard also scored a team-high eight points in the second quarter and earned a game-high +22 plus-minus.

“I know how comfortable he is,” Heat All-Star guard Jimmy Butler said. “I know the level of confidence that we have in him and that he has in himself to go out there and run the offense at any point in time, first through fourth quarter, maybe even overtime. And we live with the decisions and the shots that he makes and takes, and he’s our starting PG for a reason.”

Said Vincent: “We moved the ball. They set screens to get me in my spots. I just took advantage when I had opportunities.”

Among the many reasons Vincent’s story is inspirational is that he was undrafted out of UC Santa Barbara in 2018. The Modesto, California, native started his pro career playing for the Sacramento Kings’ G League Stockton Kings. The Heat acquired Vincent’s rights by signing him to a two-way contract on Jan. 8, 2020. And since then, the 2019-20 G League Most Improved Player has grown from a “gunslinger” when he began his Heat career with G League Sioux Falls to the franchise’s starting point guard in these NBA Finals over the likes of six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry.

Vincent said “belief and persistence” were the keys to his success after he continued to work hard and focused on “the big picture.” Meanwhile, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra simply described Vincent as a “special guy.”

“He took on the toughest role change for a young player,” Spoelstra said. “He was a gunslinger, two-guard. We wanted to develop him into a combo guard, somebody that could organize us, be an irritant defensively, tough, learn how to facilitate and run a team. That’s the toughest thing to do in this league is turn a ‘2’ [shooting guard] into a ‘1’ [point guard]. He openly just embraced that. Then he struggled at times with that because you’re trying to reinvent yourself. Instead of saying this is too tough, let me be me, he’s really grown the last three years. He’s just an incredible winning player.

“This year, he’s been a starter for us. He’s been great. He’s off the bench, he’s been great. He’s like a lot of our guys, the competitive spirit. You get challenged like we’re getting challenged in this series, you hope it brings out the best in you.”

Franklyn and Cynthia Vincent were former co-workers who fell in love, got married, had three sons and have long lived in Modesto, California. The youngest of their sons is Gabriel Nnamdi Vincent, born June 14, 1996. Franklyn Vincent came to America as a huge soccer fan. But when Gabe fell in love with basketball while playing at school during his youth, the Vincent family strongly supported his passion.

“We gave him all support he needed. Whatever he needed do, wherever he needed to be, we were there for him,” Franklyn Vincent said.

When his son was 3 years old, Franklyn Vincent took his family back to Nigeria to his hometown of Port Harcourt. The city of about 1 million people is known for its fishing settlements, ports, bountiful crude oil deposits and farming. It was important for him to teach his sons to be proud of their Nigerian heritage and have self-confidence. And he believes those principles are part of his son’s mentality now.

Franklyn Vincent (left) with his son, Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent (right), after he scored 23 points for Miami in their 111-108 win over Denver in Game 2 of the 2023 NBA Finals.

Marc J. Spears

“I taught him to have a sense of confidence, believe in himself, be respectful of others and stay true to who he is and what he knows is best,” Franklyn Vincent said.

Vincent returned to Nigeria for the first time since his early youth as a member of Nigeria’s national men’s basketball team in 2019 to train for the World Cup in China. As the top African team at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Nigeria qualified for its third consecutive Olympics berth in the 2020 Summer Games.

“Nigeria was cool. We had practices where we were able to see the city a little bit, but not too much,” Vincent said. “I could barely see it. We were only there four or five days before we got our visas to China. Nigeria was beautiful. Obviously, it has its own set of issues and things it is dealing with like any country. But it’s a beautiful country of beautiful people.”

Nigeria qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games, which was delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic. His father also had strong pride in seeing his son wear “NIGERIA” on his Olympic basketball jersey while playing for coach Mike Brown, now coach of the Sacramento Kings.

“It meant a whole lot to see my son not only represent a team, but the whole nation,” Franklyn Vincent said. “Also, a nation that is recognized by the continent of Africa. I applaud him for that …

“That’s my country, man. That’s my birth country. And it means a whole lot. Yes. It’s everything. It is my identity.”

“It meant a lot to have Nigeria on my jersey. Millions of people. It means a lot to represent them and I represent them proudly, especially with my middle name that they recognize so much,” Vincent said.

Franklyn Vincent watched the exhibition game where the Nigerians defeated the USA 90-87 in an upset win behind 21 points from Vincent in Las Vegas on July 10, 2021. While it was just an exhibition game, beating the eventual Olympic champions is the most notable win in African basketball history and inspired Nigeria and the entire continent.

“It was a huge win,” Vincent said. “It helped beating a team like USA that is so world-renowned. It lets them know that there is blood in the water, they can be beat and teams in Africa are capable of that …

“We knew how much it meant to our people. We know the people back home in Nigeria were happy.”

Vincent averaged 6 points, 2 rebounds and 1.7 assists as Nigeria went winless in three Olympic games. Despite Vincent’s less-than-spectacular Olympic statistics, Brown saw something special in him then.

“He allows you to coach him,” Brown told Andscape. “In order to have success as a team, you need guys like that. You need guys that will lead by example when it comes to being coachable, work ethic and feel for the game. His versatility is off the charts. He is an extension of the coaching staff whether in practice or the flow of the game. And I still look at him as a very young guy, but he has an old soul demeanor when it comes to the finer things in basketball.”

Vincent made his NBA debut on Jan. 27, 2020, as a member of the Heat and averaged 2.4 points in nine games during the 2019-20 NBA season, which was shortened by the pandemic. He played sparingly for the Heat from 2020-22. But around the NBA All-Star break, the Heat decided to move Vincent into the starting lineup full time over Lowry. Vincent averaged 10.8 points, 2.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game during 34 regular-season contests this season.

Vincent has continued to blossom through the postseason, with a humble Lowry serving as a mentor instead of an angry veteran. Vincent is averaging 13.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18 playoff games, including five games where he scored over 20 points. In two Finals games against Denver, he’s averaging 21 points, 4.5 3-pointers made and 4.0 assists.

“Kyle has meant the world to me,” Vincent said. “I’ve said it time and time again. I’m extremely grateful to have someone like that in my corner. Someone like him mentoring me along the way cheering me on, cheering me up, picking me up when I’m down, etc. He’s been nothing but great for me.”

Vincent says he follows the Basketball Africa League and the doors it is opening for players from the continent. Africa is known for producing a long list of talented big men, but not NBA point guards. Former NBA champion Festus Ezeli, a Nigerian, believes Vincent is inspiring the next generation of basketball players from Africa.

“To Nigeria, Gabe Vincent is an example of knowing where you come from, having a foundation of hard work and taking advantage of opportunities when you have them,” Ezeli told Andscape. “Also, shining in public and showing the results of your hard work that you have done in private for so long. Those are all of the things that he means for us.

“But he is a shining example of what it means to be proud of your heritage. At the end of the day, he is playing for the Nigerian national team and able to rise to the top through those opportunities. And now he is taking advantage of it.”

Brown said that Vincent’s Finals play inspires not only Nigerians but a “ton of people worldwide.”

“Obviously, with him being Nigerian, playing on the Nigerian national team, our success and notoriety with beating USA, it is inspirational,” Brown said. “But if you look at a guy like him, he’s inspiring to not only Nigerians, but also to kids in the USA can relate to him because he’s smaller. He’s not extremely tall, quick or athletic. But he went through a process as hard as possible not getting drafted. He’s inspiring a lot of people with the way he is playing now.”

Vincent inspired his father this postseason. The elder Vincent hugged his son tight after the game Sunday night and May 29 after the Heat qualified for the 2023 NBA Finals by beating the Boston Celtics in a deciding Game 7. But the longest and most meaningful hug of them all could be on the horizon if Vincent and the Heat defeat the Nuggets to win the title.

“I like the way he handled himself,” Franklyn Vincent said. “He was poised. Quite focused. He played a fantastic game. I wish him the best going forward. I congratulated him after the game and gave him a big hug. There is nothing better than that. A big hug from your dad …

“I don’t know if I could come up with the words of what a title would mean to me. I look forward to that.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.