Former President Barack Obama has never been shy when it comes to expressing his undying love for basketball. In fact, when he took office back in 2009, one of the first things he did was to turn the tennis court on the White House Grounds into a basketball court which he tried to use as much as possible. As it turns out, he was surprisingly good at the game too – perennial NBA All-Star Chris Paul can attest to that. What was once a hobby and an avocation for the former president has now grown into something much bigger in the form of a professional league based in Africa which is being worked out in association with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Although Obama’s role in the start-up has not been clearly defined, he is reportedly going to be directly involved in the league.
“I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts. Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court” Obama tweeted last Saturday when the plans for the new league were announced.
Fantastic Development for Basketball and Africa
This new joint venture between the NBA, Obama and FIBA is definitely going to have a big impact on Africa. It will be the very first time that the NBA will be making its attempt at operating a basketball league outside of North America. FIBA, on the other hand, has already participated in the organization of team competitions in Africa, which the new partnership is likely to build upon, with the league expected to take off at the beginning of next year.
In the meantime, in order to determine the teams that will be participating in the Basketball Africa League, FIBA and the NBA plan to jointly conduct qualification tournaments sometime this year. The qualification tournaments will be used to identify 12 basketball teams that will be representing a dozen or more countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Angola, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia and South Africa – each of the countries in the league will be allowed to have a maximum of two basketball teams participating in the Basketball Africa League (BAL).
Basketball in Africa
Even though there are already several professional basketball teams in Africa, this is the first time that the league will be attempting to unify them while offering them more resources, training, and most importantly, financial support. The National Basketball Association has already invested a lot into Africa through such program as Basketball Without Border and Giants of Africa, as well as through the establishment of an NBA Academy in Senegal and regional offices in South Africa. Through these investment efforts, there are now 13 active NBA players from Africa this season, a number that is certainly going to grow further once the African version of the league kicks off in January 2020.
The Basketball Africa League aside, the National Basketball Association has also recently introduced a number of additional measures that are meant to further propel the popularity of basketball in Africa. These include a new and improved direct-to-consumer offering of the league’s games which will be on offer at the beginning of the next season. There will be a lot of focus on training activities for referee, coaches and the players themselves.
According to Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, the Basketball League Africa is the next best step in the development of the game of basketball. He is confident that, combined with all the other programs that are already underway in Africa, the new league will be an “economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media, and technology across Africa.”
Speaking on the involvement of the former president, Adam Silver confirmed that he and Mark Tatum have spent the last few months with Obama and they are very excited that he will be involved in the project. He has been actively involved in several projects in African countries which makes him the perfect fit for the yet-to-be-announced role he will be playing.
Other Sponsors Show Interest
One other thing that will make the project even more exciting is the interest that has been expressed by several NBA sponsors to partner with the Basketball Africa League. Some of the most notable names include Jordan, Nike, and Pepsi.
Brands aside, a number of NBA players are also looking to ensure that the project goes through as expected. Masai Ujiri, a groundbreaking basketball pioneer in Africa, is without a doubt, going to be one of the players who will have a role in the Basketball Africa League. The basketball enthusiast who has roots in Nigeria, his birth country, has for a very long time advocated for the advancement of the sports in the African continent. Best known in Africa for his Giants of Africa foundation which is a collaboration with the NBA, Ujiri has strived to ensure that the game spreads through the continent. The foundation has held multiple camps all over the continent where they combine the delivery of on-court instruction with lifestyle development, as well as support systems for young people in Africa.
Moreover, Masai Ujiri has been involved in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program ever since its inception more than ten years ago. He has been advancing the agenda through weeks of travel and talks with young African athletes.
Already, the idea of a fully-fledged NBA league in Africa is attracting a lot of attention both within the continent itself and other places. The launch of the NBA Africa League over the weekend in Charlotte, North Caroline, for instance, attracted a huge audience from African celebrities and media personalities who are fans of the game. With that much support, it is quite obvious that this new initiative will be great not just for Africa but for the game of basketball as a whole.