On the eve of the All-Star Game, the NBA announced one of its most ambitious projects in years: the formation of the Basketball Africa League.
The NBA will partner with FIBA, the international governing body for the sport, to form the 12-team league, which is expected open January 2020, the NBA announced on Saturday. Former President Barack Obama, an avid basketball fan, is expected to have hands-on involvement with league as well.
There are already several professional teams across Africa, but this league will attempt to unify them into one place while providing financial support, resources and training. There will be qualifying tournaments held to determine which teams make the league with the nations of Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia likely to be represented.
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. https://t.co/lghcLaUN9a
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 16, 2019
The NBA has heavily invested in Africa with programs such as Basketball Without Borders and Giants of Africa in addition to having an office in South Africa and academy in Senegal. Since the end of his presidency in 2017, President Obama has helped Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, who hails from Nigeria, with the Giants of Africa youth basketball program.
The league’s investment over the years has helped raise the number of active NBA players from Africa to 13 this season. That includes Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid as well as former first-rounders Al-Farouq Aminu, Bismack Biyombo, Gorgui Dieng, Emmanuel Mudiay and Pascal Siakam.
“We’re excited to work closely with the NBA to develop and put in a place a professional league like none that we have ever seen in our region before,” said FIBA Africa Executive Director Alphonse Bile. “Through the Basketball Africa League, we can provide the many great clubs and players with the best possible environment to compete for the highest stakes.”
Although the this will be the first time the league is directly involved in an operation outside of North America, the NBA has put on three games in Africa in the last five years. In the most recent NBA Africa game, Team World edged out Team Africa 96-92 despite a game-high 24 points from Embiid.
According to Silver, several of the NBA’s major sponsors have already reached out about partnering with the new Basketball Africa League. Pepsi and Jordan Brand are among the most notable, although clearly having the stamp of approval from President Obama goes a long way.
“As we’ve been talking about this concept over the last several months,” Silver said, “there’s been a tremendous reception from several of our NBA team owners.”
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