The second season of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) started last weekend in Dakar, Senegal.
Twelve teams will compete this season for the BAL title. Last year, Egypt’s Zamalek won the championship.
The league was supposed to start in 2020, but was delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the season took place over two weeks in Kigali, Rwanda. This year, the schedule runs over three months and 38 games. They will be played in Dakar, Kigali and Cairo, Egypt.
The BAL is supported by America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) and FIBA, basketball’s international governing body. It is the first time the NBA has put money into a league outside of North America.
Victor Williams is NBA Africa’s president. At an event in Lagos, Nigeria, in February, he said the league is evidence of the NBA’s interest in “growing the game across the continent.”
Sam Ahmedu is the president of FIBA Africa Zone 3, which includes Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.
He said the expanded number of games will permit more people to see games in person.
“It will help to popularize the game and attract more sponsorship,” he said.
A sponsor is a well-known company that supports a sports organization with money.
Beyond sponsorships from Nike and Pepsi, the league also has the support of former United States president Barack Obama who is working to help promote NBA Africa. The league announced in 2021 that Obama received part ownership of NBA Africa in return for his work. Obama said any money he receives will go to his foundation’s programs in Africa.
Dikembe Mutombo is a former NBA player from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He invested money to help start the league.
Basketball’s African future
Soccer is the most popular sport in Africa, but with a number of NBA players who are either from Africa or have an African parent, the sport of basketball is growing fast.
There are about 50 NBA players with African roots. The most famous are Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors. The league is hoping to help little-known players improve their game and get attention. Last season, 15 scouts watched the league.
This year, each BAL team will have a young player from the NBA Academy Africa, a training center in Saly, Senegal, for teenage players.
The program will provide another pathway for good African players “to reach their potential as players and people,” said Amadou Gallo Fall. He is the BAL president.
One team leader, however, believes athletes should not only play to try to make the NBA, but to make the BAL a great league.
“I believe the BAL will grow as big as the NBA and bigger,” said Relton Booysen, coach of the Cape Town Tigers, a new team in the BAL.
Regardless of whether the BAL becomes successful throughout Africa, one observer believes the new league will serve as a form of cultural exchange.
Scott Brooks is associate director of Arizona State University’s Global Sport Institute. He said when an American sport like basketball becomes more visible in a foreign country, it affects both cultures.
"It's not just American culture taking over. We always get a piece of other cultures coming back," he said. "That's what really makes this exciting."
Brooks said something like the BAL is more than basketball. “It is building leaders in Africa,” he said.
Those interested in following the BAL can hear VOA’s broadcasts of the games on the radio in Africa. VOA will cover the games in English, French, Portuguese and two African languages: Kinyarwanda and Wolof.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based a report by Voice of America’s Sonny Young and Carol Guensburg.
Words in This Story
title – n. the position of being champion in a sport
promote– v. to make people aware of something, such as a new product
scout – n. a person whose job it is to look for talented performers
teenage – adj. between 13 and 19 years old
potential – n. a quality that something has that can be developed to make it better
global – adj. involving the entire world