[A picture of Giannis Antetokounmpo dunking – Creative commons]
Each year when the NBA (National Basketball Association) season finishes, media members and players face a tough question. “Who do you think was the best player in the league?”. This is not just a matter of curiosity. The answers to this question will be cast as votes for the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award. Among the elite talents of LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The star that was crowned MVP for the last two years was the son of African immigrants – Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis is feared among the league for his athleticism and impressive skills around the court. Impressively, his talent follows a long line of African stars in the NBA. In the 90s, the likes of Dikembe Mutombo (DR Congo) and Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) dominated the league with their size and offensive ability.
But despite their success, the path to the NBA has long been risky and difficult for African athletes. The stories of African athletes being exploited, underdeveloped and simply disregarded after they fail to live up to expectations have been overlooked. Clifford Etadafimue recalls being recruited to the U.S. from Nigeria at 17 to fulfill his NBA dreams, only to end homeless after the school that he played at closed down. African players have long been the target of corrupt coaches and agents who dream of finding the next Giannis, Hakeem and Dikembe.
New basketball league in Africa
Soon, this will all change. In 2020, the NBA and FIBA announced that they will be launching a new basketball league in Africa, the Basketball African League (BAL). The league will span the entire continent. With countries such as Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia all interested in hosting teams. To encourage the development of local talent, teams will be restricted to have only 4 foreign players on the team. This means at least 8 players on the team will be local, national players.
This comes at the same time as the NBA’s efforts to reach more African youth. Initiatives such as Basketball Without Borders have brought NBA stars to train with young players in Africa. Young basketball players from around the continent recently participated in camps in Angola, Senegal and South Africa. Players who impress have the chance to be invited to the global basketball camp. Where the top 64 players from around the world have their chance to be recognized by coaches in the NBA.
These are great opportunities for African basketball players to showcase their talents. It is finally time for the NBA dream to arrive in Africa.