By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
Basketball in Southern Africa is a sleeping giant. The increasing popularity of the sport, especially among young people, is indeed a positive phenomenon and has many benefits. The sport can be harnessed to promote general mass participation in sport and physical recreation. The close affinity of the game to hip-hop music is also an area which needs to be exploited in a positive way by policy and decision makers to encourage education, public health, protection of the environment, crime prevention, youth entrepreneurship as well as adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Basketball is a ready-made magnet for connecting to the youth and enabling them to express themselves freely and honestly. The allure of the NBA is also a fascination and an obsession which drives the pursuit of excellence among the more talented youngsters.
The fact that regular NBA matches are being held in London is not, by any means, a mistake or fluke. It is a conscious decision by the managers of the game to promote the NBA as a global brand. The NBA is the ultimate dreamland for any young and talented basketball player. Competition is so fierce, even among the American players themselves such that only the exceptionally talented make it to the most lucrative basketball league in the world. Other leagues are also coming up, with Euro League Basketball also making a meaningful impact in the development of the game globally. Countries such as China, France, Greece, Lithuania and Turkey are home to some of the most fanatical followers of the game.
The NBA Africa already has offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, which is an acknowledgement by the power brokers of the game in the US that indeed Africa cannot be ignored. Africa is the new frontier in the development of basketball. There is absolutely no doubt that this game promotes exhilarating athletic prowess and flair while providing some of the most memorable experiences in sport.
The goodwill of the NBA exhibited by the establishing offices in South Africa as well as plans to establish an elite basketball academy in Senegal must be matched by development efforts of the African national sports authorities. Facilities must be constructed to support participation in the sport at all levels, from primary school to institutions of higher learning as well as in the community. It is conceded that there are other competing priorities on the national development agendas of various governments but if ministries of sport do not push vigorously for construction of facilities for prioritised sport codes, there will be no development. Construction of a basic outdoor basketball court costs between US$15,000 and US$25,000.
Apart from the investment required in constructing basketball courts, there is also need for training of coaches and umpire, which the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), would be glad to assist with in the Southern African region. Provision of equipment is also key to the development of the game. This means that governments in Southern Africa need to consider lifting import duties on sports equipment which is meant to benefit their citizens, especially the needy youth. The availability of facilities, human resources and equipment will help to cultivate a rich culture of basketball. This will lead to rigorous competition at national and regional levels, excellence as well as emergence highly talented players in the game.
It is possible that among a thousand children who will have started playing the game consistently since primary school, only one will be able to make to the NBA or the lucrative basketball leagues of Europe or China. However, if the game is developed and marketed in various countries, strong leagues can also emerge where players can also earn a decent living.
Instead of just focusing on athletics and football as the only sport codes where meaningful employment can be created, basketball offers another lucrative and viable alternative. The only way in which African countries can benefit from the multi-billion-dollar global sport industry is by equipping the people, especially the young ones. Sport, and in this case, basketball, offers an alternative route to generating employment and reducing abject poverty.
History and scientific evidence has taught us that prevention is better than cure. It is much cheaper to invest in sports facilities, including affordable outdoor basketball courts, rather than manage effects of the break-down of social and cultural values engendered by rapid urbanisation. Although, football still draws a lot of crowds, a lot of youngsters are now gravitating towards basketball. It is estimated that each NBA franchise is currently worth approximately US$1.25 billion. This means that there is a lot of money being generated in basketball. African youth stand definitely to benefit from the NBA but only if there are meaningful efforts to develop the sport on the continent. Hopefully, we will in the future be seeing NBA stars such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and many others coming to play matches in Africa. African sports authorities have no option but to simply take advantage of this popularity by “mining the gold and diamonds” of this sport industry. The train has already left the station but Africa must find a way of jumping on board! The future has arrived! Game on!