The NBA comes to Africa

In a leap forward for basketball in South Africa and the continent, the NBA’s first game in Africa will be played in August. The captains have been announced for the Team Africa versus Team World play off, with the African side led by Luol Deng.

Image description In a first for Africa, the NBA will hold a basketball game in Johannesburg. (Image: Twitter)


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Priya Pitamber

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is coming to South Africa, when it will hold its first basketball game in Africa, in August. The Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg will be transformed into a basketball court for the Team Africa versus Team World play off.

Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA’s Africa vice-president said it was a major milestone for the group’s efforts on the continent. It has had a presence on the continent for over 30 years. “It is a pivotal moment for the growth of basketball on the continent, and we are grateful to the Players Association, players and team personnel who have committed to be part of this historic event.”

An excited Fall hoped the game would become an annual event.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said it was a chance to change the perception of many South Africans, and show that sport was more than rugby, cricket, and soccer. “It will benefit us to grow sport,” he said. “We have started the league of basketball and to put it on the highest pedestal and benefit us in terms of promoting that league here in Mzansi [South Africa].”

Team Africa vs Team World

Team captains have been named. Heading up Team World is Chris Paul while South Sudanese born Luol Deng will lead the charge for Team Africa.

“I am extremely proud to be a part of the NBA’s first game in Africa,” said Deng. “Coming from South Sudan and having participated in the Basketball without Borders Africa camps in Johannesburg previously, I am truly honoured to be part of this historic event.”

Paul said he was looking forward to representing Team World in the first NBA game in Africa. “It will be my first visit to the continent, and I cannot wait to contribute to the growth of the game on and off the court.”

Happy fans

Basketball enthusiasts in Africa took to Twitter to show their excitement.

Ticket information, coaches and other players are still to be announced. Big Concerts will keep fans updated.

African players

Luol Deng

Image description Luol Deng, born in South Sudan, plays for Miami Heat in the NBA, after moving from Chicago Bulls. (Image: Keith Allison, Wikipedia)

“I enjoy throwing the ball in the hoop,” Luol Deng told American news site USA Today. But he had not always like the sport, he admitted.

Born in what is now South Sudan, his family fled the war and moved to Egypt. When they received a visit from basketball player Manute Bol, Deng’s fate changed, even if he was resistant to it. “Manute started putting in practices at the time, but I wouldn’t play,” Deng said. “I was nine, and I was just watching. I hated basketball then. I was playing more soccer.”

When the family moved to England, his brother continued his interest in basketball, influencing Deng. He started playing at the Brixton Basketball Club. Deng eventually moved to the USA and put his skills to use, playing initially for the Chicago Bulls and now Miami Heat in the NBA.

Bismack Biyombo

Image description Bismack Biyombo, born Democratic Republic of Congo, plays for Charlotte Hornets in the NBA. (Image: Mike Kalasnik, Flickr)

Born in Democratic Republic of Congo, Bismack Biyombo is the eldest of seven children. His love for basketball came from his dad and uncle, both of whom played in the semi-professional first division league.

When he was approached to play professionally in the Middle East, his parents were initially reluctant. But after a year of persuasion, they allowed him to do so.

Draft Express, a scouting, statistics and analytics service, said: “From Qatar he went to Jordan, then to Lebanon and finally to Yemen. In total, he spent six months jet-setting around the Middle East.”

Biyombo moved to Spain to play basketball, where he was spotted by Nike’s consultant of global basketball and was invited to play at the Nike Hoop Summit. He now plays for the Charlotte Hornets.

Festus Ezeli

Image description Nigerian born Festus Ezeli went to the US when he was young and ended up playing for Golden State Warriors in the NBA. (Image: Warriors World)

Festus Ezeli left his native Nigeria for the US when he was 14 years old to live with his uncle, sent by his parents to get a better education.

Chatting to sports channel, ESPN, Ezeli admitted he did not know what he was doing when he first tried to play basketball. “Imagine someone who is 14 or 15 years old, and you’re teaching them as if they’re a six-year-old,” he said. “It was tough. Everyone was getting frustrated with me. I was getting frustrated with it. I tried playing in 2005. I stopped. I tried again in 2006. And when I had my first dunk in a summer league game in Las Vegas in 2006, that’s when I was so excited. It was so exhilarating that I started to like it.”

He initially struggled to master hand-eye co-ordination. But he said the hard work had paid off – because today he played for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA. “To go from where people were telling me, ‘You’re so bad, you’re terrible,’ to being able to do what I’m doing now, to where I could be playing with the best eventually, it’s an honour.”

Gorgui Dieng

Image description Gorgui Dieng, from Senegal, would like to be a good role model through basketball. He plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA. (Image: Africa Top Sports)

Gorgui Dieng’s father – an elected official and teacher – played a big role in his life. “My dad, he taught me a lot. Because where I am from, my dad taught me how to share,” Dieng, who hails from Senegal, told US new site, WDRB.

“When he was younger, every month my dad had his salary, he’d just put the money on the table like this, and people are going to make a big line because we got a lot of people don’t have enough money to take care of themselves. He always talked like, ‘I made this money. I’m not going to save it for you, I’m going to give it to people that need it. If you want to make your own money, just go work for it.’ That’s what he always told me.”

And because of that Dieng said he wanted to earn his own money and become a role model too. “I want to go back home and give back,” Dieng said. “People helped me to get here to go to school and play basketball, I want to go back home and do the same thing for the kids. I don’t want to be selfish. People who helped me do what I’m doing right now, I want to go back and do the same thing for them.”

He now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA.