By Zoe Collins Rath
Basketball is a sport that is growing and the best example of its growth was the announcement of the 12 teams participating in the new Basketball Africa League, 10 years after the NBA opened an office in Africa.
“Basketball Africa is happening,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during a speech in NBA Africa All-Star Luncheon.
Former and current African NBA and WNBA players were at the luncheon to welcome the 12 new teams who will start their first season in March. The teams are from Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia.
The teams that are going to be part of the BAL either qualified through a tournament or were the champion from a country that was guaranteed representation in the inaugural BAL season. According to Toronto Raptors Assistant Coach Patrick Mutombo, Africa has spent the last 10 years preparing for this moment .
“Every year you see effort putting forth to develop the game,” Mutombo said. “Even the coaches are getting better and younger players are putting in more work.”
The growth and success has come from opportunities such as Basketball Without Borders, a camp that the NBA runs during the multiple All-Star Game festivities.
“Africa is well represented here,” said Chris Ebersole, the NBA’s senior director of international basketball programs. “We have a strong contingent from our NBA Academy Africa Program.”
Ebersole said the camps are a strong investment in growing the game in Africa. The first NBA player from Africa was Hakeem Olajuwon, who was drafted in 1984. Currently there are 40 players who are either from Africa or have a parent from the continent. These current players and former players are looking to continue to develop the future players from Africa.
“Many of the current players have asked, ‘How can I be involved in this league, how can I promote it, what can I do in the off season to make sure it’s successful?’” Silver said.
“The long-term plan is developing,” said Mutombo.
Development of the continent is going to be important because it will create a new line of potential NBA players. It could be in the form of camps or better facilities but it could also help locals think of the possibilities of what could happen if they work with the NBA and BAL.
“To have young kids dream about local stars and that look like them,” Mutombo said. “These are different role models, but there are so many potential things that can emerge out of it.”