By Kayode Hammed: (Twitter: @kayodemed)
There’s a certain flair and pageantry that gets added to any sporting event when Los Angeles is the host city. And when it came to the 2018 NBA All-Star festivities, Hollywood did not disappoint in living up to its standard. Need I say I was impressed by the organization put together by the NBA?
At the banquet hall of Hotel Indigo in downtown Los Angeles, some of the NBA’s biggest former and current stars, as well as the African continent’s brightest entrepreneurs, musicians and influencers gathered for the NBA Africa Luncheon where the announcement of the 3rd NBA Africa Game was announced by the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver.
NBA commissioner Silver said in no uncertain terms that the NBA saw the African continent as a major growth opportunity for the organisation from a playing and commercial perspective.
“Africa is one of the fastest-growing continents in the world and the NBA and the sport of basketball is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. The NBA Africa game is not just about sport, but it’s also about business. We see a huge opportunity in Africa,” said Silver.
I caught up with Toronto Raptors President, Masai Ujiri, a Nigerian and the only non-white chief executive of the four franchise sports in the United States as he continues to make efforts aimed at growing the game on the continent: “We feel very privileged that the NBA took the initiative to have the game for the third time in Africa and this gives us a platform to express ourselves in many ways. People get to see the diversity of culture and it is going to be a very unique experience.”
The launch was attended by the likes of NBA global ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, NBA players Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks), Emmanuel Mudiay (New York Knicks), Cheick Diallo (New Orleans Pelicans), Bismack Biyombo (Charlotte Hornets), actor Djimon Hounsou and singer Akon, among others.
AFD AND NBA AFRICA PARTNER TO DEVELOP YOUTH PARTICIPATION IN BASKETBALL
On July 4, 2018, the Agence Francaise Development (AFD) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced their plan to jointly promote social inclusion by developing basketball infrastructure and conducting youth basketball programmes, events and initiatives in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, Senegal and other selected African countries.
The formal announcement was made by the President of France at Lycee Francais Louis Pasteur School in Victoria Island, Lagos. Also present at the event were AFD Chief Executive Officer, Remy Rioux and NBA Vice President and Managing Director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Global Ambassador, Dikembe Mutombo, former NBA players, Olumide Oyedeji, Ronny Turiaf, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Obinna Ekezie, Â Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema and the French Ambassador to Nigeria, Denys Gauer.
The NBA and AFD plan to collaborate on and expand their mutual and longstanding commitment in Africa by providing basketball equipment and training to youths and coaches and teaching life skills in selected African countries.
WEEK LONG ACTIVITIES AT THE NBA AFRICA EXHIBITION GAME IN SOUTH AFRICA
The NBA Africa Game 2018 was an exhibition basketball game played on Saturday, August 4 at the Sun Arena, Time Square in Pretoria, South Africa, but prior to the game proper, activities in the days leading to the event made both the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria tick.
The Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Africa Camp, NBA CARES – a community outreach project, the NBA Innovation Summit and the media session with NBA Commssioner, Adam Sliver, Deputy NBA Commisioner, Mark Tatum and NBA Africa Managing Director and Vice President, NBA, Amadou Gallo Fall all provided a background and a deep insight about the prospects for the game growth and development.
Silver spent an hour discussing predominantly African topics, but the mention of a major league on the continent, which has provided the NBA with 25 of its current stars, sparked much interest.
When I asked him about the possibility of having a regular season NBA Game, because it’s high time, the Commissioner remarked: “When we were at the Mandela Centre of Memory, we were reminded of his often repeated quote that sport has the power to change the world, and my addendum to that quote, having read much about President Mandela, was that sport is an economic engine.
“One of the opportunities we’re exploring is the development of a Pan-African basketball league. It’s still in its very early stages; the arena infrastructure is not yet in place to support a full-fledged league.
“I met with Patrick Bauman, Secretary General of FIBA (now late) and he said he would be supportive of the concept as well. It’s in the very early stages, but as I leave the continent in a few days, I’m leaving my charge to Amadou and his colleagues in Johannesburg to develop a fully-fledged plan.”
Silver was put on the spot again when I asked about the structure of the proposed league, where teams would come from, and how they would qualify.
He was honest in his response, saying: “I’ve thought about it, but we’re too early in the process to give specific answers. But I know it’s something Amadou and his staff are spending time on.”
Amadou Gallo Fall, who is also an NBA vice-president, named the likes of Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Tunisia as the hotbeds of the game in Africa and focal points for grassroots development, with the eventual goal of a continental league as a home for those players.
NBA’S POWER FORWARD INITIATIVE
The 2018 Power Forward finals received rave reviews following the successful completion of its fifth edition in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
The finals, which took place from September 26 to 28, included a basketball clinic with former NBA player Jerome Williams, community outreach and court dedication as well as the boys and girls finals of the 2018 Power Forward basketball season at the National Stadium, Abuja.
Franck Traore, Director of Basketball Operations, NBA Africa, expressed delight at the popularity and achievements of the programme in Nigeria.
“Power Froward has a home now in Nigeria. Nigeria is a priority for the NBA in general. You cannot talk about youth sports development without including Nigeria. Since the inception of the programme five years ago, every year there’s a gradual increase in the number of participation; we are very pleased with it. The kids are engaged, and even though the schools were hesitant at first, they now think the sky is their limit,” Traore said.
On his part, former NBA and D’Tigers star Olumide Oyedeji, hailed the NBA and their partners for using the initiative to empower and teach young Nigerians valuable life skills.
“This is a great initiative by the NBA, ExxonMobil and Africare. It teaches the young kids about leadership, health awareness and education as well as basketball. It’s a great initiative that I’ve always supported; it motivates me and inspires me. I hope we can have more organisations do this same thing and help empower our kids,” the ex-Seattle SuperSonics centre said.
Power Forward, a youth development initiative of ExxonMobil, the National Basketball Association and international NGO Africare, teaches health literacy and life skills through basketball and other means to positively impact Nigerian secondary school pupils in Abuja.
Victory Adekunle, a product of the Power Forward initiative and an SS3 pupil of Model Secondary School said her life has turned around since she became a part of the programme.
Adekunle was in South Africa in August to watch the NBA Africa Game and also participate in the NBA’s programmes while in Johannesburg.
She stated, “I knew about Power Forward through a friend and I came for training, we then started doing community work and cleaning. When I got to secondary school, I was privileged to join it fully and I continued working hard, that’s how I got to where I am today with the programme.
This year, the programme reached close to 12,500 youths in schools and vulnerable communities with life skills information, providing more than 6500 persons with malaria prevention strategies and treatment and establishing 20 hand wash stations to promote hygiene and exemplary leadership skills.
INSIDE THE NBA ACADEMY AFRICA
The National Basketball Association on Monday, September 26, 2018 cut the ribbon on a new training centre in Saly, Senegal, where it hopes to develop a new generation of African players for the league.
The facility, which features two indoor courts and a weight room in addition to dormitories and educational facilities, will be the primary training location for male and female prospects from across the continent.
The centre is part of NBA Academy Africa, which has seen three of its graduates commit to play at Division 1 colleges in the U.S. since it opened last year.
“We are thrilled to open this world class new venue in Saly for NBA Academy Africa prospects,” said Amadou Gallo Fall, the NBA’s vice president and Managing Director for Africa.
“This facility will provide aspiring players from across the continent with state-of-the-art courts and training equipment, under the tutelage of our NBA coaches and our world class academic staff,” he said.
The NBA Academy Africa is operated in partnership with the SEED Project (Sports for Education and Economic Development), a non-profit organisation that uses basketball to engage youth in academic, athletic and leadership programs.
Since October 2016, NBA Academies have been launched in Australia, India, Mexico and multiple cities in China.
YOUNG NIGERIANS AT THE SALY, SENEGAL CAMP OF NBA ACADEMY AFRICA
6 young Nigerians, Timothy Ighoefe, Nelly Joseph, Chukwudalu Calistus Egbejiogu, Tobi Samuel Ariyibi, John Kenoye and Joshua Ojianuwa have all stood out amongst their peers at the camp with odd defying displays at the camp on a quite regular basis.
One of the Nigerians in the camp, Timothy Ighoefe made the headlines when the 18-year-old committed to play for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown next season, only three years after switching to basketball in Lagos.
The most translatable skill that Igohoefe possesses is his shot-blocking ability. That is probably what made him stand out to Patrick Ewing as well. He really uses that length to his advantage. In the two games I watched, Igohoefe blocked several shots, and altered some other layup attempts as well
“I need to work on my speed, running down the floor baseline to baseline,” Ighoefe said at the unveiling of a new training facility at the NBA’s African academy in Senegal. “My left hand, I need to improve, to finish with my left hand.”
The 6’10” big man has a 7’7.5″ wingspan, an 8’11” standing reach, and a 10’11” one-step vertical, according to statistics from the 2018 NBA G-League Player Invitational that Igohoefe took part in in August.
In other words, there is potential but it is a work in progress — just like Africa itself for the NBA JOURNALIST’