Windhoek – The inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) took off last weekend in Kigali, Rwanda, with 12 teams from across the continent and guest stars like American rapper J Cole battling for honours.
The competition replaces the FIBA African Basketball League and is being run in conjunction with the world governing body and the American NBA.
Participating teams are Petro de Luanda, GSP, Zamalek, FAP, River Hoopers, GNBC, AS Police, Ferroviario de Maputo, AS Sale, Patriots BC, US Monastir and AS Douanes.
Champions from the national leagues in Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia automatically qualified for the debut season, while the remaining six participants from Algeria, Cameroon, Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique and Rwanda secured their entry through qualifiers organised by the FIBA Regional Office Africa in late 2019.
“We are extremely happy to finally launch the highly anticipated first season of the BAL. FIBA and the NBA have been working closely together to develop protocols to address the health and safety of all players, coaches and officials. The experience of hosting the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 qualifiers in Rwanda late last year will contribute to a safe and successful inaugural BAL season,” said FIBA Africa and BAL board president Anibal Manave.
The inaugural season was supposed to start March 13, 2020 at the Dakar Arena in Senegal and was supposed to be spread across the continent, but the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to that.
“We are thrilled that the inaugural Basketball Africa League season is taking place at the world class Kigali Arena. Through the BAL, we will provide a platform for elite players from across the continent to showcase their talent and inspire fans of all ages, use basketball as an economic growth engine across Africa, and shine a light on Africa’s vibrant sporting culture,” said Amadou Gallo Fall, the BAL president.
The league will have a total of 26 games, with an 18-match group phase in which the 12 teams are divided into three groups of four. In the group phase, each team will face the three other teams once, with the top eight qualifying for playoffs of three elimination rounds until a champion is crowned on May 30.
The African showpiece is the first professional league run by the NBA outside North America and is being played under strict COVID-19 guidelines. The organisers have established robust health and safety protocols based on the guidance of the World Health Organisation and Africa Centres for Disease Control, with advice from public health officials and medical experts.
Southern African representatives GNBC of Madagascar lost their opening Group A match 113-66 to Tunisian champions US Monastir; while the experienced Demarcus Holland added 13 points and Alvaro Masa finished with a game high 24 points in Mozambican champions Ferroviario de Maputo’s Group C loss to Zamalek, which ended 71-55.
The Southern Africa region is pinning its hopes on Angola’s Petro de Luanda, who comprehensively beat AS Police of Mali 87-66. The club ranks among the big achievers on the continent, having twice won the FIBA African Championships.