For one member of the Capital City Go-Go, a call from the Washington Wizards was about more than just basketball. The impact was felt well beyond D.C., all the way to the country of Colombia.
Jaime Echenique will forever remember Dec. 30, 2021 as the day he became the first Colombian to play in the NBA.
He was playing for the Wizards' developmental league team when multiple cases of COVID-19 hit the franchise in December, and he got the chance to make a debut in the NBA.
“I normally don’t check my phone until I leave, just to be more efficient. And then I did that and I found 20 missed calls, and I was like, ‘What’s happening?’” Echenique said.
He saw missed calls from Capital City Go-Go’s General Manager Amber Nichols, Head Coach Mike Williams and some of his teammates.
“And then I saw [calls from President Tommy Sheppard], and I was like, ‘OK, this is it,’” Echenique said with a smile.
The former Wichita State University student had become a celebrity in Colombia, and was even recognized by Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno in D.C.
“We Colombians are extremely proud. This is the first Colombian ever to play in the NBA. He comes from a very harsh background, and he has been able to move forward,” Pinzón Bueno said.
“When I met the ambassador I was like, oh, this is bigger than myself. [I appreciated] the time that he took to put me on his agenda to recognize me,” Echenique said.
Although basketball has given him the opportunity to play the sport in different countries around the world, Echenique said he never forgets the sacrifices his parents made in his native country.
“My dad is a bus driver. [My parents] mean the world to me. I do this for them because I know how much they sacrificed for me,” he said.
Jaime Echenique Sr. couldn’t be there for his son’s big moment. But a video message moved the player to tears.
“I give thanks to God because you are where you are. I have a son that I am so proud of,” his father said.
A decade ago, Echenique wanted to be a bus driver too, helping his father at work.
“I was the person who would take the money and give them the change back,” he said.
Now he’s waiting to help out the Wizards again, ready for his next chance.
“The only thing I know is that I have practice again tomorrow and that’s the only thing I focus on. I don’t focus on the future. I just focus on the day by day and my short-term goal,” Echenique said.