March 2019

Soccer (football as it’s known in most countries around the world) has always been the competitive sport of choice for most people across Africa, but that may change very soon as a new competitor jumps into the arena. In February, the National Basketball Association and the International Basketball Federation announced plans to export one of American favorite pastime sports to Africa with the creation of a professional basketball organization that will be based on the African continent.

The league, which is named Basketball Africa League, or BAL, will consist of 12 basketball club groups chosen from across the African continent to represent several African countries, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia, and will have no more than two teams from the same country able to qualify, the organization said. 

FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis, who made the announcement alongside NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at the NBA All-Star 2019 Africa Luncheon in Charlotte, NC, said the inauguration of a professional basketball team in Africa marks the expansion of Basketball Without Borders, an initiative that helps discover, develop and nurture talented young people from around the world to become better athletes, and will allow the FIBA Africa and the NBA to maximize the potential of professional basketball in Africa by offering the ultimate competitive platform for the very best clubs and players to compete.

Noting the historic significance of establishing the new league in Africa, Mr. Silver, the NBA Commissioner said BAL, combined with other NBA’s programs on the continent “is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa and to use basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa.”

Speaking about the significance of the BAL to African youth, FIBA Africa Executive Director Alphonse Bilé said that BAL will not only provide the many great clubs and players with the best possible environment to compete at the highest stakes in the region, the implementation of the league is also “vital to our young up-and-coming players in Africa as it gives them something to take aim at: they can look at becoming players who can play and evolve in these competitions, right on their continent.”

Among those in attendance during the ceremony were FIBA Africa President Hamane Niang, Charlotte Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan; Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Chairman Larry Tanenbaum; NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts; NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum; and members of the NBA family, including Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (U.K.; parents from Nigeria), Hornets center Bismack Biyombo (Democratic Republic of the Congo), NBA Legend Alonzo Mourning, NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Connecticut Sun forward and two-time WNBA All-Star Chiney Ogwumike (parents from Nigeria), and Raptors President Masai Ujiri (Nigeria).

Further, NBA Vice President and Managing Director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall said “having a top-flight professional basketball league in Africa will provide a platform for elite players to showcase their talent and inspire more young boys and girls to play the game.”

The BAL initiative, which will build upon current club competitions FIBA is organizing in Africa, also marks a major milestone for the NBA as this is its first collaborative active league outside of North America.

The NBA and FIBA said the BAL is scheduled to begin playing in January 2020 but plan to start testing for eligibility tournaments later this year across the continent to identify the 12 teams that would represent several African countries

Further, the joint venture said it also plan to dedicate financial support and resources toward the continued development of Africa’s basketball ecosystem, including training for players, coaches and referees, and infrastructure investment.

The NBA also announced it plan to introduce a re-imagined direct to consumer offering of NBA games for fans in Africa by the start of the 2019-20 NBA season.  The offering would include new packages, features and localized content, with additional details to be announced at a later date.