“Africa is a continent that is full of secrets, full of treasures. And I think all of these treasures are going to be found someday” — Dikembe Mutombo, Congolese former NBA star
Take a moment to think about it. The rush of goosebumps. The feeling of disbelief. Pride. Growth. Stardom. A place where you never dreamt of being in. The exact same platform where the biggest stars were made. A stage you never thought you would feature in, even in your wildest dreams.
This is the reality of many Africans who blaze through all the odds every year to play in the NBA. Many sacrifice good opportunities back home, choosing to start afresh in a foreign land. Also, many go through the hardest of refining moments, only to go on to become superstars. The Hakeem Olajuwons, the Giannis Antetokounpos, the Dikembe Mutombos, and many others bring pride to the African continent.
Basketball Gaining Grounds in Africa
Over the years, as globalization continues to rise, the number of Africans playing in—and winning the biggest prizes—in the NBA, continues to rise. Last season, more than 50 players of African heritage participated in the NBA regular and off-season. Interestingly, this number is expected to grow.
As the idea of basketball appeals to more and more Africans, we examine Africa’s burgeoning relationship with the NBA. We also look at ways in which this relationship can benefit Africans within and outside the continent. However, it would be premature to do this without first discussing the very root of this flourishing partnership; the Basketball African League
What is the Basketball Africa League?
— Basketball Africa League (@theBAL) June 9, 2021
After a visit by the NBA to Kigali in September 2018, the NBA decided that it would start a League in Africa within the following year. Plans were put in motion. However, the league did not kick off until May 16, 2021.
The Basketball Africa League is a new NBA-backed competition. It is the premier African male basketball competition. The league consists of twelve teams. Each team qualifies through their domestic competition similar to the format of the UEFA Champions League in soccer. It is a joint effort by both the NBA and FIBA to reach the African continent, thanks to sponsors like Nike, Pepsi, and Air Jordan
The competition takes place at the Basketball Arena in Kigali, Rwanda. Out of these 12 teams, six are seeded into one of two possible conferences. Consequently, games are played in a league format within these two divisions. Top three teams from each conference advance to the Super 6 level.
At the Super 6 level, teams play in a round-robin competition to decide which four teams qualify for the finals. The final four is a single-elimination tournament that decides the Basketball African League champion. The participants of the first season include teams from Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria. Others are Rwanda, Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, and Mozambique. Zamalek of Egypt emerged champions after an enthralling first season.
How Africa Can Benefit from the NBA-Africa Partnership?
As the presence of the NBA in Africa increases, the continent is in a position to benefit in several ways. If harnessed, these benefits can start a chain of events that could trigger massive economic development in Africa. We highlight some of the benefits below.
#1. Massive Investment in Africa
For the Basketball Africa League, the amount of foreign investment accrued towers north of $100 million. The League was able to attract sponsorship from multiple multinational organizations, including Air Jordan, Flutterwave, French Development Agency (AFD), Hennessy. Others are New Fortress Energy, Nike, Pepsi, RwandAir, and Wilson.
Also, according to the official website of the League, most logistics, broadcasting, and technical equipment are produced almost entirely in Africa. This, it says, is to boost manufacturing and industrialization across the continent. The NBA also announced plans to mandate media organizations who have licenses to cover the League to establish offices in Africa.
#2. Increased Global Exposure for African Basketball
Media coverage has also given some global exposure to African basketball. BAL games are broadcast by ESPN Africa and Canal+ Afrique in Africa, TSN in Canada, and Tencent Video in China. In the Middle East, OnTime Sports have broadcast rights while in the United States, ESPN+ and NBA TV can broadcast live games. Internationally, beIN Sports and the Basketball African League website, theBAL.com, can broadcast live.
This distribution of broadcast rights means that viewers all over the world now have a direct gateway to African basketball. More viewers in more countries on more continents means more global exposure for African basketball. The signing of celebrity star, J. Cole, to the Rwandan Patriots, is also a big boost.
#3. African Basketball Development
The TV rights deal for the Basketball Africa League is estimated at over $1 billion. According to the NBA, a sizable chunk of this sum will be channeled back into funding basketball development in Africa. According to the BAL President, Amadou Gallo Fall, this will go into grassroots development as well as awareness campaigns for basketball in the continent.
#4. A Bigger Window to the NBA
Two seasons ago, Nigerian Giannis Antetokounmpo burst onto the scene, winning back-to-back NBA MVP awards in 2019 and 2020. Although an anomaly, Giannis’ path to the NBA was made smooth by the existence of a strong basketball structure in Greece where he was born.
Similarly, one of the objectives of the BAL is to create a gateway for talented and ready African starlets to travel to the United States and play NBA basketball. Through NBA-style drafts, NBA franchises can come over and select players for their teams
#5. Improved Basketball Culture in Africa
Africa is heavily endeared to soccer amongst all sports. However, basketball can stake a claim at attracting and keeping as many Africans as it can, through the BAL. Through the one-team-per-nation model, more Africans can support teams along National lines, leading to an improvement in the basketball viewing culture of Africans.
Although a large number of Africans are in love with soccer, the Basketball Africa League is here to stay. As more efforts continue to go into basketball development in Africa, stakeholders are hopeful that this new venture will drive growth and investment across the continent. Supporters have also increased along National lines, supporting the team from their countries. What are your thoughts about the League? As the new season gears up to come alive, which team will you be supporting? Let us know in the comment section.