Collectors: Precious Achiuwa - NBA Star, Wine Lover, InVintory Ambassador

September 28, 2023
44 mins
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Yule Georgieva: Hello, I'm Yule Georgieva. This is Chats from the Wine Cellar, the official InVintory podcast, and I'm so happy to be here with our newest Ambassador, Precious Achiuwa, who many of you will know as an NBA star here for the Toronto Raptors. So Precious, thank you so much for joining.

Precious Achiuwa: Of course, thank you for having me. I'm excited.

Yule Georgieva: I'm very excited too. And we've spoken already before a couple times, but now it's really exciting to get this on camera and tell everybody a little bit about you. So before we get into your connection to wine, which is obviously why you're here, tell us a little bit about you. Where are you from? How did you get into the NBA?

Precious Achiuwa: Oh, well, that's a long story. I mean, where do I start? Well, I was born and raised in Nigeria is very different from growing up in the States or Canada or whatever you want, whatever the case is. But growing up in Nigeria, you see things a lot differently. The world is a little different. Then I got an opportunity to move to the United States, New York, which is also a very different city to grow up in New Jersey, which is the neighboring state, literally, right there, to New York. When they come to New York, New York City, they're like, whoa, what's going on? But I moved to New York, which was a really, really big cultural shock. I was able to adapt to the city, adapt to things, the way people talk, move, act, all that kind of stuff. So I went to school in the city, went to high school, went to college at the University of Memphis for one year, then got drafted by the Miami Heat. The rough story, the cliff notes. Yeah, that's more so like how everything, you know there's in-betweens, a lot of in-betweens, but that's just more so like a quick put together of everything.

Yule Georgieva: When did you start playing basketball? 

Precious Achiuwa: I started playing basketball right before I left Nigeria. I was 13 years old. Got to New York around 14-ish. So yeah, and that was it. Started playing back home and then went to New York of course, go to middle school, high school. You play on the middle school team, play on the high school team and then you just start getting noticed from there, getting scouted and all kinds of stuff go to college and there's more scouting it just becomes you know more crucial and crucial the higher you know you go so yeah that went really quickly for you then it went super fast you know you look back and like whoa. 

I was just in middle school and then it's like okay I'm a senior I'm graduating high school and then I'm going to college and then you go to college for me it was so fast because like I said, I went to college for one year. And the next thing is I'm in the real world in eight months. And that was crazy. What's actually crazier was I came out the year COVID hit. So 2020 was the year I got drafted. My draft is unlike any other draft that they've ever had in NBA history since the NBA became a thing because we experienced such a long pre-draft process. 

So we got out of school around March because the NCAA season was cut short because of the COVID and everything, you know, the whole world was kind of like put on standby. So we had a really, really long pre-draft process from March all the way up until November. 

Meanwhile, in a real scenario, the NBA draft happens in July, you know what I mean? So in June or July, you know, one of those months, I can't remember right now, but we had to go all the way until November to get drafted. It was a really long process, you know, but it was, looking back at it now, it was just, I like to say, my class, I was part of a class that just had a different experience. You know, I would always look back and say, okay, that was unique. You know, you can look at all the craziness, everything that happened, not being able to go out, hang out with friends, not being able to go out to go eat. You know, you could say, oh, why does it have to be my class that we have to wait so long to get drafted? But you could also say, hey, that was my class that went through all that, and we're still, you know, standing up, you know, strong in the NBA, representing and fighting.

Yule Georgieva: Yeah, I think that's one thing that I think all of us noticed about you right away. You're very positive and I think you're very good at picking out the good moments. Of course, you have to. There's a lot going on. That's true, right? 

Precious Achiuwa: And it's all perspective. You can control to some extent.

Yule Georgieva: So when you went to the Miami Heat, that was where you first got drafted. 

Precious Achiuwa: Yes, so I got drafted in Miami. I got drafted to Miami Heat in 2020, November, and played my first year for the Miami Heat. Then got traded to the Toronto Raptors my second and third year. Now I'm going into my fourth year in the NBA. 

Yule Georgieva: And how are you liking the big smoke? 

Precious Achiuwa: It's good. It's amazing. I'm waiting for the season to start. New coaching staff, everything is kind of fresh right now. We're a bit younger than we were in the past couple years, but everyone is positive. I think everyone is in a good state of mind right now, so we are excited, looking forward to what the new season is going to hold. Well, you know that there are a ton of NBA players who are into wine.

Yule Georgieva: Correct. Right? I did a dinner with JJ Redick down in New York in May, and we were joking that he was going to become the new coach for the Raptors, and that we would have all had a big InVintory dinner together. So was it in Miami that you first got into wine? Because you know there are some players in the heat who are too brand new wine. 

Precious Achiuwa: Yeah, definitely. Funny story, actually. I used to be one of the five. So my rookie year in Miami, you have rookie duties every year in the NBA.

Yule Georgieva: Is it like hazing?

Precious Achiuwa: Not necessarily hazing.

Yule Georgieva: Breaking you in.

Precious Achiuwa: I'm not going to call it hazing on camera. But it's just the rookie duties, you know, you carry the bags, or you gotta go get coffee early in the morning, or you gotta go get McDonald's. Like it's just, you know, it's just mostly like petty stuff, you know. And I have my rookie duties, as a rookie, and one of my rookie duties was carrying the wine case of one of my vets. So I made sure the wine case got on the bus, got on the plane. When the plane landed, I had to take it off the plane, put it on the bus, take it off the bus, and deliver it right to the room. And when I was leaving that city, I had to go to the room, pick up the wine case, put it on the bus, and just pretty much the whole, put it on the bus, put it on the plane, get off the plane, make sure I was in good condition. But they refused to give me the code to the wine case.

Yule Georgieva: Oh, that was going to be my next question. You had to check the inventory, quality control.

Precious Achiuwa: I wanted to. I had one of two agendas. 

Yule Georgieva: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think I know who this player was because I think there's been stories about this famous wine case moving around, but was this Jimmy Butler? 

Precious Achiuwa: It was. 

Yule Georgieva: So but I mean did you start then drinking with or like drinking wine with your teammates? 

Precious Achiuwa: No, well I started before that. I started drinking wine before that. Well I got introduced to wine a while ago. My dad was a you know sort of not so much but here and there he'd drink wine. My brother got into wine as well so I got it I started drinking again picking up an interest for wine through my brother and when I got off to college I was like hey I want to drink I was never a hard liquor person you know so I wanted to drink wine I already enjoyed it at the time so I got in so I started getting into wine I said reading the body studying the body all kinds of wine and all kinds of stuff. And by the time my rookie year came, that's when I started, now I'm living by myself. And I don't want to say, drinking age in America is 21, but I was only 20 in college, I can say that now. But, so when I, my rookie year in Miami, I started getting into my own wine, things that I like to drink, things that I didn't like to drink and I just picked out from there and just kept building and educating myself on wine.

Yule Georgieva: Do you remember your first really memorable bottle? 

Precious Achiuwa: My first really memorable bottle? Oh, that's a good one. I would probably say it might have been a port wine. I'd say either Taylor Fladgate or a presidential one of them I'm not so sure. 

Yule Georgieva: Interesting. Port, that's not something that's that common.

Precious Achiuwa: I guess it might be because it's a little sweeter. I feel like it's easier to get into wine with something that's more sweeter than just more so like the really dry you know what I mean like not everyone can really just get into just pick up a Merlot or like a Carbonate something or whatever, and just enjoy it. You kind of have to build your palate to the point where it's like, okay, this is enjoyable for you. You know, you got to kind of like build from, you know, taste that you're already familiar with. And sweet was something that I was familiar with at the time, of course. So I started there and just kind of built from there.

Yule Georgieva: We always say it's kind of similar to, you know how people get started drinking coffee? You start with like your hazelnut lattes.

Precious Achiuwa: I don't drink coffee.

Yule Georgieva: Oh, you don't? Well, most people, you know, most normal people who drink coffee…

Precious Achiuwa: Educate me.

Yule Georgieva: They start with a hazelnut latte or like a vanilla frappuccino or something like that. And then over time, you can build your way up to like a regular latte and then eventually you end up with black coffee, right? Which is such an acquired taste. It's probably similar to wine, I think, where it takes a little bit to acclimatize to. But you seemed like you liked it right away. One thing that I love about you is it's actually so rare that somebody who is as young as you is so into wine. Because it is something that often it takes a bit of time for people to just develop an appreciation for it. It's quite a sophisticated habit. I mean, overall, you're a very sophisticated guy. But you started so young.

Precious Achiuwa: It's a sophisticated habit and an expensive habit.

Yule Georgieva: That too. It gets worse too. It does get worse. Over time. 

Precious Achiuwa: But yeah, it's something that I enjoy. You know what I mean? So I don't necessarily look at it as something so crazy. Like I said, I'm not really into hard liquor, you know, all kinds of stuff. I'm just more so. I just want something that's gonna... I don't feel any type of crazy way after drinking wine. You know, hard liquor, you feel crazy the next day, there's a hangover, you got to deal with that, or all kinds of you feel, you don't really feel yourself the next day at home. But I don't feel that with wine, you know, it's not something that you could just, I feel like wine is not something you could just, I mean, you could drink a lot of it, but then I feel like it gets to a point where it's not enjoyable anymore. You know, it's just like, you get to a point where it's not enjoyable, you just got to find that good balance for me, you know, where I'm drinking and I'm like, okay, this is enough. Like, I'm good right now, you know.

Yule Georgieva: Yeah, and for you, I mean, is it the taste of wine or is it more the whole story and everything around wine, like the history and the culture that really attracts you? Because there's those two sides.

Precious Achiuwa: I like both, but I think the history and the culture is what really attracts me to a particular bottle of wine or vineyard or whatever the case is. It's just a whole story and a history. I don't know, you go places and you say you visit a vineyard or you're in about a certain bottle of wine and like, oh, this family migrated from somewhere in France and they moved to Niagara to start a vineyard about 60 years ago or 70 years ago, like those stories are just so captivating, you know, and then just to see that it's thriving from all the way from France to Canada, and they're doing well, and they're producing really, really good wine is very, very captivating. And also I have to say, Niagara actually has really, really good wine. People have to start acknowledging Niagara when they talk about wine.

Yule Georgieva: Well, I live in Niagara, as you know, so I'm very happy to hear you say that. But I agree, there are a lot of, and you know what? I find this as many wine regions that the ones, the wine brands that you see on the shelf is just such a tiny snippet of what there is. And then when you actually go there, you get the full experience. So what other wine regions have you visited?

Precious Achiuwa: I've been to Niagara. I've visited, what's it called?

Yule Georgieva: Napa.

Precious Achiuwa: Napa. Those are the only two I've visited. I didn't have time to go to the south of France when I was in France But it's definitely on my to-do list. I'm gonna go to France, Spain and maybe Italy no not maybe Italy definitely Italy, but there's a it's in South America. Oh Argentina Mendoza. No Chile. 

Yule Georgieva: Yes, nice. 

Precious Achiuwa: Yes, Chile I want to go to Chile because they say it's the most organic wine there is. Because of how the climate is. So you see like stuff like that excites me I want to go go to places like that, you know, experience and explore. 

Yule Georgieva: Yeah. Well, I mean tell me if this is something you think is driven by your athlete side? But it seems like you really take your wine knowledge seriously like you genuinely want to learn and go out and experience and not necessarily read books I mean maybe read books, but also just go out and like visit the wineries visit the vineyards. 

Precious Achiuwa: Yeah

Yule Georgieva: And you're pretty focused and disciplined about it. Is that is that for being an athlete because you take that same sort of style of discipline? 

Precious Achiuwa: I'm passionate about something if I enjoy it, so this is like I enjoy playing basketball. I love to play basketball and I'm passionate about basketball. I go in the gym every day, multiple times a day.

Yule Georgieva: You're making me feel bad.

Precious Achiuwa: You're a pro athlete.

Precious Achiuwa: I'm a pro athlete, so you don't got to feel bad. Yeah, so I go in the gym multiple times a day because I'm passionate about playing basketball. And I want to become better. I want to perfect my craft. I want to get better at playing basketball. What I'm passionate about, I have to have some approach. And wine is one of those things.

Yule Georgieva: Yeah, that's great. I mean, there's so much to learn.

Precious Achiuwa: There is. Oh my gosh. I don't think someone in their lifetime can cover the entire knowledge of wine.

Yule Georgieva: No, even like you talked to a master of wines, like the highest credential you can get, they still don't. They're still always learning. And there's always stuff changing. Like you said, there's people moving from France to wherever. So what are some wines right now in your collection that you're pretty excited about? Are there any wines or regions that you're particularly into right now?

Precious Achiuwa: Yeah, so right now I'm collecting, well not collecting necessarily, but I'm focusing a lot on Niagara. I'm drinking more from Niagara. There's this, what's it called, Vignale Ventus Stratus. 

Yule Georgieva: Yeah, it's right across my house. 

Precious Achiuwa: Really? Are you serious? And they have this cool looking bottle that decants the wine for you. Like, I think that's the coolest thing. It's so beautiful. But yeah, that's one of the vineyards that I've, you know, been drinking from the past couple months. I actually visited it not too long ago. They make amazing wine, in my opinion. So yeah, Niagara, Marlboro, Niagara, Spanish wine as well. Yeah, that's like Napa, you live in the States, you get a lot of those, you know. I mean, I'm not knocking it, you know, but you live in the States, you get a lot of those. I'm just trying to like something different, something new and just expand from there. Well, I got some bottles from France as well. So what I try to do, wherever I go, if it's a wine origin, I try to get a bottle or two from that origin and bring it back.

Yule Georgieva: Nice.

Precious Achiuwa: And just like collect and say, hey, this is what I got when I went here, you know. So yeah.

Yule Georgieva: Well, is this one of the things that you actually do with the InVintory, right? Because I think one of the things that's so nice about wine is that it is like your repository of memories, right? It's all the places you've been. 

Precious Achiuwa: Yes, yes. 

Yule Georgieva: And I think, is that one of the things that you do?

Precious Achiuwa: Yes.

Yule Georgieva: You take photos?

Precious Achiuwa: So like InVintory, like I'm collecting, you know, I'm collecting wine. It's like, I could look back and say, okay, this bottle reminds me of my time with friends in 2022. And this one reminds me of my time in Italy in 2023, you know, just so on and so forth. You know, it's just something that I do just so I could always remember. It's just kind of like, I don't know, what do you call it when you go to a souvenir?

Yule Georgieva: Oh, souvenir, yeah.

Precious Achiuwa: Yeah, like a souvenir. You go somewhere, you collect the souvenirs. You collect souvenirs, yeah. I like to collect bottles of wine.

Yule Georgieva: Are there any dream bottles that you have in mind? Like, are any of the... Because you drink, I think, I think you're pretty open-minded about it. 

Precious Achiuwa: I am very. 

Yule Georgieva: Like, you'll drink from anywhere.

Precious Achiuwa: Yes, yes.

Yule Georgieva: But are there any dream bottles that you've been hiding?

Precious Achiuwa: I don't have a dream bottle, but I do have this. So I refuse to drink a Pinotage from anywhere besides South Africa, and I haven't been to South Africa so that's why I haven't tried a pinotage yet. 

Yule Georgieva: Well that's your home continent you know I mean it's very big. 

Precious Achiuwa: I know I have South African friends and they are so not happy with me not coming to South Africa this year. They're like dude there's no way you didn't come to South Africa this summer But I'm definitely gonna make take a trip down there because I'm like, you know, it's I told him this I might look I'm not gonna try a pinotage Unless I'm in South Africa. So that's yeah, that's good

Yule Georgieva: And you know what pinotage has a funny reputation where some people like really hate it. Yeah, right and they get really passionate about it, but there are some really good ones.

Precious Achiuwa: I've heard mixed stories or mixed reviews about it. Some people were like, oh, I didn't really like it. I couldn't get into it. Some people were like, it's actually not bad. And some people were like, it's good. It's very, there's a lot of mixed reviews I've gotten about it. So I'm kind of like, OK, you know what? I want to go there, and I want to try it myself in South Africa. So yeah.

Yule Georgieva: Right, and being in the location always helps. But you know, it's such a personal thing. Because do you remember the movie Sideways? Have you ever heard of the movie Sideways?

Precious Achiuwa: No.

Yule Georgieva: It's about these guys who take a road trip through Napa. 

Precious Achiuwa: OK. 

Yule Georgieva: And there's this scene where the one guy trashes Merlot. Like, he just really insults Merlot as like the worst wine ever. And it actually caused Merlot sales to go down. This is a true story. And the funny thing is, is that Petrus, which is one of the most famous Bordeaux wines ever, like the most expensive Bordeaux wine, is pure Merlot. So people are hating on Merlot, but then I think there's even a scene in the movie where later he's drinking Cheval Blanc or Petrus or one of the Bordeaux Merlot wines, right? So it's such a funny thing where people don't form their own opinions, whereas, like you said, you want to go there and make your own vine. 

Precious Achiuwa: Yeah, I want to go there and make my own opinion.

Yule Georgieva: Yeah, no, that's good. Well, so now, are there other players on the Raptors who are into wine? Like, do you guys ever have wine nights?

Precious Achiuwa: Right now, I don't think there's any other players that are into wine. Last year we did, I had a teammate last year that was into Spanish wine. That's how I started getting into Spanish wine actually. So Juancho Hernan Gomez last year, he's Spanish, he's Spaniard I'd say. So he was like, hey dude you gotta try. So he realized, he figured I was into wine and he was, so he was like, hey dude you gotta try some Spanish wine. I'm like, okay you gotta show me. So we'll go out on trips and he'd take me to restaurants and he's like, yo, do you guys have any Spanish wine? And I tried it for the first time with him and I'm like, you know what, this is actually good. So we just kept, that was like our thing, you know. But right now I don't think we have many players that are kind of, you know, into wine. Like they'll drink wine if we go out, but they're not into it.

Yule Georgieva: Well, it's funny, I think we spoke about this before. One of our friends of InVintory, Mark Nadeau, he heads up the Academy Du Vin, which is this wine school. They do these wonderful tastings with high-end wines and what not.

We should do a Toronto Raptors night, and you could host it and bring in your players and educate them. Because it is, like you said, people who you trust and know. If they introduce you to wines, then you're more liable to try it.

Precious Achiuwa: Yes, absolutely.

Yule Georgieva: Yeah, for sure. Well, so let's talk about a couple of your other interests before we wrap up. So I know that aside from, gosh, you have so many things on the go. You have basketball. You've got business, right? And that's being a part of InVintory. You've got your fashion interest as well, and just your wine passion. But I know you were just in Nigeria doing something pretty special. So why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Precious Achiuwa: Yeah, so, well, like I said at the beginning, I'm someone, I was born and raised in Nigeria. So I'm very passionate about Nigeria and the continent of Africa as a whole and also my city when I was born in Port Harcourt and the reason is because the reason is because It's different like I said Culture is different people think very differently the approach of life is different from the West somewhere and the reason is just how it's been you know what I mean? And opportunities are not as available as it is in the Western world. 

So, and I always tell people this, I always say I'm a miracle. And I understand all those kids back home, they see me as a miracle as well. And I gotta understand that a lot of people are looking up to me. So what I try to do is I try to use my platform to create as many opportunities for kids back home. 

So last year, this year we just finished our second edition of What If Unlimited Camp, that's what we'll call it. Our organization is called What If Unlimited. And last year we had a What If Unlimited Camp, this year we're having a What If Unlimited Camp. And the reason we'll call it, the reason our organization is called What If Unlimited is because the whole idea, like I just said, is trying to create unlimited opportunities. And the what if part is more so what if a different decision was made from my end at the beginning. What if I decided not to go to, what if I miss an opportunity. people and that's mostly not just anyone but people that don't they're not exposed to as much opportunities and I'm very passionate about where I'm from I'm very proud to be where I'm from and so what we do is we go back we host a basketball camp for kids back home it goes from ages 9 through 17, 18 and these kids they come up in hundreds. It's ridiculous. Last year we had around 650 to 700 kids. This year we'll hand over a thousand. I think it was a thousand eleven kids this year. So every year the number is increasing ridiculously. And for some reason we're always under prepared. It's not under prepared in terms of like what we're doing. It's more so what we're giving out. So what we do is the camp is totally free for the kids. They come in to get basketball shoes, basketball, well, basically basketball gears. And they get free lessons because I bring my personal coach with me. So he shows, so they get to see what an NBA training looks like. So he trains, he works hand, close, very closely with the kids. I bring a professional, like an NBA photographer, I bring NBA videographers, just try to create a whole NBA atmosphere so these kids can see what it takes or what it means to play in the NBA. Because, like I said, I'm the only NBA player from my city. And they never really get the opportunity to be around something like that. So I just try to create an NBA environment so they can witness and dream bigger and understand that it's achievable. 

You know, I mean, it's so close to them They could feel it. They could touch it. They could experience it. It's not so far I think it is and I'm there every day hands on with all of them. The most amazing thing was last year. We had just strictly basketball So this year we incorporated life skills. Then every year we just try to add on to that and try to improve on that and add more things. So we split up the life skills and divided 1011 kids into different groups. So the whole idea was we threw questions at them, threw various questions at them and they had to figure out, they had to problem solve as a group. So basically just social skills, how to interact with people, how to work in a group, how to problem solve, come up with a solution and then they have to appoint one or two representatives from the group to come tell everyone what their solution was for the particular problem that was given to them. So just mostly like giving, just having them think about different things about life. So we incorporated that this year thanks to my team. And yeah, it was amazing, it was a good time, but the biggest thing for me is this year out of the camp we have. We were able to get four players. For attendees I'd say because it's not just players, three of them have athletic scholarships for one of them or what's it called? Scholarships so three athletic guys and one academic scholarship so that for me, that's the most important thing. To come to North America.

Yule Georgieva: That's great.

Precious Achiuwa: To be able to go to school, play basketball, just become better, just make their lives better, better opportunities, whatever the case is. For me, the most important thing is just going to school. There's only 450 NBA players in the whole world. It's very, very difficult to become an NBA player, very, very difficult. But it's not very difficult to go to school. And I understand that. So just try to create those opportunities where those kids can better themselves, better their family, better their community, and in turn, go back and do the same thing for other people. Because somebody did it for me.

Yule Georgieva: That's such a great initiative. Congratulations. Thank you. It's really great. And you know, maybe one day what we could do is if you're adding in all these additional life skills, maybe there's some budding sommeliers or winemakers in there and we can come run a little bit of a wine education component. You know there's also opportunities in that world to bring it full circle. But yeah Precious, so great chatting with you, and we're so excited that you're now an ambassador for InVintory. I'm really excited that we're gonna get to do some dinners together soon and drink some wine. I'm looking forward to it. Really can't wait to hear what you think of Pinotage, man. I'll be serious. Thank you so much.

Precious Achiuwa: Of course. Thank you for having me. We'll talk again soon.

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