By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
This column has always been convinced about the great potential of the basketball on the African continent, especially in Southern Africa. However, it is indisputable that basketball authorities have been sluggish in terms of transforming the game on the African continent. It is also sometimes, indeed, disheartening how sport authorities and the corporate sector in Africa do not see and work to realise the huge potential there is on the continent.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the international basketball governing body, the International Federation of Basketball Associations (FIBA) have realised the potential on the African continent and are actually working to do something about it. They have decided to establish the Basketball Africa League (BAL), which will comprise 12 teams from Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. BAL is expected to officially commence in January 2020 and the project is reported to have the direct support of former United States President, Barack Obama. Other prominent supporters of the initiative are Pepsi Cola and Nike’s Jordan brand.
It also reported that NBA and FIBA’s involvement will include financial support and resources towards developing basketball on the African continent as well as capacity building for players, coaches and referees as well as some infrastructure for BAL. There is no doubt that the work of the Basketball Without Borders initiative and that of NBA Africa has led to this innovative development to support the growth and transformation of basketball on the continent.
Credit goes to the NBA Managing Director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall and his team, who have worked tirelessly to achieve extraordinary things in a very short period of time. BAL is going to be a useful launch pad for many more African players to achieve stardom and global recognition. This is what young African players have always craved for, a platform to showcase their skills.
Hopefully, the advent of BAL will spur African governments to develop basketball facilities in their countries. NBA and its partners, the US franchise owners, are not totally altruistic. They have realised what Africans themselves do not see; that they are sitting on top of a diamond mountain. They will be investing their funds into BAL and obviously, they will want to see a return on that investment. They are now dictating the narrative of basketball development on the continent when that should have been done by the African basketball authorities themselves. However, the downtrodden and underprivileged young Africans with their raw talent will not mind who is conducting the orchestra. All they want is to play and do so at a very high level. The fact that a good number of them will be able to lift themselves and their families from abject and dire poverty will be more than an incentive.
NBA and FIBA do not realise the magnitude of the work they are going to embark. There is no doubt that they are going to be overwhelmed by the success of this project. They have now successfully embarked on a process to awaken the giant. There is no doubt that the best of African talent will be on display from 2020 onwards and coupled with television coverage, there will be an explosion of the game that will have far-reaching repercussions for the global basketball family.
There has been talk in social and economic discourse that “Africa’s time is now”. It has been going on and on and was beginning to sound like a cliché with nothing really tangible taking place on the African continent except for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. However, BAL is going to bring something regular instead of a one-off event. It will help to fast-track the development of a culture of basketball. Obviously, the best of the talent will be taken to the NBA in the United States and European basketball leagues but at least there will be a fantastic conveyor belt which will have the world in a trance.
The development of basketball traditions will hopefully see other countries that will challenge the established dominance of Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and Morocco who have been the “Big Five” on the continent. Other strong contenders are Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Mali, Mozambique, Ivory Coast and Kenya. In this connection, Africa was able to contribute several players to NBA such as Dikembe Mutombo, Luol Deng, Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo and others without a strong organized structure for the development of the game except for the continental body, FIBA Africa.
The advent of BAL might definitely be bad news for Africa’s competitors in the game but it is certainly good news and a most welcome development for the continent. It is official! NBA and FIBA will be letting the genie out of the bottle in January 2020. Thereafter, it will be the time to sit down, relax and see Africa take over the world of basketball. This, amongst other things, and most unfortunately for its competitors, will be the unintended consequence of BAL. Let the games begin!