Rwanda is among twelve African nations that will take in NBA’s first professional basketball league outside of North America, Basketball Africa League (BAL) which will begin in Africa next year.
The NBA and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced the development on Saturday, saying that the Basketball Africa League (BAL) will feature 12 teams from across Africa.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, FIBA secretary-general Andreas Zagklis, FIBA Africa President Hamane Niang, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, Toronto Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum; NBA vice president and managing director for Africa Amadou Gallo Fall and Raptors president Masai Ujiri were part of the group that made the announcement at a luncheon Saturday in Charlotte.
Rwanda was represented by the Chief Operating Officer of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Mr. Hategeka Emmanuel.
The NBA and FIBA said they plan to conduct qualification tournaments later this year to identify the 12 teams that would represent several African countries, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
While there are several basketball teams across Africa, a pro league will unify them under one umbrella and provide resources and visibility.
No more than two teams from the same country will play in the league. “The Basketball Africa League is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.
“Combined with our other programs on the continent, we are committed to using basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa.” The NBA will also introduce direct-to-consumer offerings of NBA games for fans in Africa, including features and localised content.
The development comes at a time when the government is constructing a 10,000-capacity multi-sport arena which will host these games. Apart from basketball, the Arena will also host volleyball, and tennis among others.
The arena, which is costing Rwf. 2 billion, is located on Ferwafa artificial turt, next to Amahoro National Stadium in Remera, is also designed to host concerts and meetings.
In addition, the NBA and FIBA have pledged financial support for the infrastructure of basketball in Africa, including skills camps for players, coaches and referees.
More than 80 current and former players from Africa or with direct family ties to the continent, including Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) and Dikembe Mutombo (Democratic Republic of Congo), have competed in the NBA.
Former President Barack Obama applauded the announcement. He said, “I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts. Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court.”
The NBA’s ties to Africa go a long way. Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby, whose parents are from Nigeria, and Hornets center Bismack Biyombo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were among the players who attended the NBA All-Star Africa luncheon Saturday, where the announcement was made.
Other players with ties to Africa include Joel Hans Embiid, a Cameroonian who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. NBA global ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, who played for several teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Raptors President Masai Ujiri is from Nigeria.
The NBA has held three games in Africa since 2015, all of them selling out — two games in Johannesburg, the other in Pretoria. Many of the league’s current players and coaches, along with several legends and Hall of Famers, have been part of those trips.
The league has an office in South Africa, has helped create 87 learn-and-play facilities in seven African nations, and 13 players who were born in Africa on opening-night NBA rosters this season. The league also built an academy in Senegal that opened nearly two years ago.