As Black History Month comes to a close, we spoke to Birmingham’s very own basketball star, Kofi Josephs, part of Team England’s men’s basketball team at Gold Coast 2018.

He gave us his thoughts on three pioneering black athletes that provided him with inspiration when he was growing up in Aston and shared with us his hopes to inspire young, black people in his home city when he competes in two years’ time.

It’s no surprise to hear that Kofi counts NBA stars as some of his childhood heroes, citing Allen ‘The Answer’ Iverson from the Philadelphia 76ers as a particularly influential figure.

When Kofi first started playing basketball at the aged of ten, he was enthralled by the American’s talent.  “From his rookie year through to retirement, he was relentless in his ambition to win and to perform, and to do both with style.  His handles, steals, the legendary crossover when he played Michael Jordan – he had it all.  And he did this as one of the shorter, slighter players in an era of the Game when size was dominating (Iverson is 6ft).  This made him way more relatable, especially compared to some of the giants of the game.”

As his basketball career began to blossom, Kofi found the late, great Kobe Bryant also became an important role model: “Kobe is the GOAT in my opinion. The winning mentality, famous known as ‘Mamba Mentality’ had me in rapture.  I was inspired by that mindset and the way he galvanised a team, leading from the front, but also doing the hard yards and putting in work.  I would listen to his words of wisdom, the team talks and the interviews he did.  I sometimes found it hard to take on board my coach’s advice but found it much easier to listen to what a player like Kobe had to say”.

Moving away from Basketball, and perhaps a little more surprising is that Kofi lists Olympic and Commonwealth gold medallist, Denise Lewis, as one of the athletes that provided him with inspiration when he was growing up.

Josephs explains why the heptathlete, who is now Commonwealth Games England President, was his hero: “Denise Lewis was a great role model for me as not only was she a black athlete but she was a local black athlete. She made me realise that you could be from the West Midlands, you could be black, and you could win, and for me, that was really inspiring.”

Kofi describes Lewis as his “ local hero” explaining that she was someone that his Mum admired too: “Denise did so many different events, events I’d tried myself, so I knew they were hard, yet there she was winning gold medals, so I had a lot of respect for her.”

Kofi met Denise recently when they both took part in the Birmingham 2022 mascot summit and admits to being more than a little starstruck but describes how they’ve stayed in touch through social media, and he’s clearly pleased to have made a connection with a childhood hero.

Josephs has been a big supporter of Birmingham 2022 and is one of the stars of the current advertising campaign and now hopes that he can take his turn to inspire young people in his home town.

He’s already had a taste of what that might be like after the Gold Coast homecoming celebration in Birmingham’s Victoria Square in April 2018. Many of the Team England athletes were introduced to the crowd that day and Kofi distinctly remembers the ‘great big cheer’ he received when those gathered realised he was from Birmingham.

At the end of the conversation we ask Kofi for his thoughts on Black History Month and it’s clear that he has mixed emotions. He goes on to explain that he sees it as an ‘important month’ but believes ‘we should be celebrating black history and the achievements of black athletes all year round.’

With this in mind, look out for more blogs in the coming weeks as we ask more Team England stars to share their stories of the heroes that have inspired them.