Sports

Africa: Basketball Africa League – Linking African Teams to the NBA

Beyond the game, using sports for gender equality and climate action

If you grew up in Africa and aspired to become a professional basketball player – just like the American National Basketball Association (NBA) stars on TV – then you know how hard it was to get an opportunity to showcase your talent internationally.

The lack of high-paying professional leagues at both national and regional levels was a major barrier to growing local talent.

However, all that is changing now, thanks to the Basketball Africa League (BAL) – an African continental professional basketball league which is a partnership between the American National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

Founded in February 2019 in Dakar, Senegal, the Basketball Africa League successfully launched its first season in May 2021 in Kigali, Rwanda, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second season was held in Dakar and Cairo, while its final game was played in Kigali. The Egyptian club, Zamalek, won the inaugural season while US Monastir from Tunisia won the second season.

This league is the first of its kind in Africa and is currently featuring 12 club teams from across the continent. It organises qualifying rounds to get teams to play in each season. Basketball federations in participating African countries get a chance to send their national basketball champion to the qualifying tournament. The 12 teams from the qualifying tournament meet to compete at the finals.

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Currently, the league for women has not started yet, but there are plans to launch it soon. However, there are programmes targeting women coaches, and those in sports decision-making positions, as well as young women training in basketball Academies (e.g. Junior NBA in Africa and other academies that partner with BAL).

It's very important that the young girl sees that she can be successful in sports, and can go on to hold positions of leadership, both on the [basketball] court and off the court.

The league's TV partners in the US who broadcast the games in Africa include NBA TV, ESPN+, and Voice of America. American teams send scouts to attend the final matches. Outstanding players from Africa are given a chance to showcase their talent in the NBA Summer League in the US where they have a chance of securing a contract.

Basketball Africa League is giving young players on the continent an opportunity to build a career in professional basketball, while taking advantage of the league's platforms to enter the global stage. For example, Egypt's Zamalek Anas Mahmoud was the first to have a roster spot in the NBA Summer League 2021 with the Toronto Raptors.

In Season 2, Evans Ganapamo (from Central Africa Republic) who played for the Cape Town Tigers in the BAL got drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA Summer league 2022. However, both players didn't manage to win a final Roster spot for their respective NBA team. They will play again in the BAL and will try out next year.

Also, two head coaches from BAL Season 2 were also invited in the NBA Summer League 2022 as assistant coaches. Coach Francois Enyegue who led the Cameroon team Forces Armees et Police (FAP) coached with the Milwaukee Bucks, while Emmanuel Mavomo who coached Espoir Fukash from DRC assisted with the Toronto Raptors in the 2022 Summer League. One BAL referee from Rwanda, Jean Sauveur Ruhamiriza, also officiated in the NBA Summer League 2022.

The Basketball Africa League's TV partners in the US who broadcast the games in Africa include NBA TV, ESPN+, and Voice of America. American teams send scouts to attend the final matches. Outstanding players from Africa are given a chance to showcase their talent in the NBA Summer League in the US where they have a chance of securing a contract.

Going beyond the game

Beyond the sport, however, the organization has created new platforms and programmes that leverage the game of basketball as a community connector to help create meaningful social impact across Africa.

"We learned that it isn't about being a 'female' basketball player but simply a basketball player. And I will do everything to be the best that I can be," says Fatou Bintou Cisse, a young player from the Seed Academy in Senegal.

Early this year during the International Women's Day on March 8, the Basketball Africa League made a commitment to work towards gender equality and women inclusion in the sports ecosystems in Africa – an initiative dubbed BAL4HER.

There are plans to set up interventions in every marketplace in Africa to promote women in sports during BAL4HER day. These will include panel discussions, workshops, networking opportunities, and social media content creation, among other actions.

Victor Williams, NBA Africa CEO, looks at it as great opportunity for the youth.

"It's very important that the young girl sees that she can be successful in sports, and can go on to hold positions of leadership, both on the [basketball] court and off the court," says Mr. Williams.

Climate Actions and awareness

The African league, through its BAL Green platform, is also exploring ways for the players and fans to make a positive impact on the environment and in people's lives by advocating for greater environmental responsibility for sustainable greener communities.

The organisation has launched a Threes-For-Trees initiative supported by their partner New Fortress Energy in which trees are donated to other organisations involved in the Great Green Wall initiative. Such organizations include Trees for the Future.

The Green Great Wall initiative is an ambitious project to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land in the Sahel to capture 250 million tons of carbon and create 10 million green jobs by 2030, while supporting communities living along the wall to grow fertile land to survive. More than a dozen countries are involved in the initiative.

How does Threes-for-Trees work?

For each 3-pointer scored in a Basketball Africa League game and in any of their activations such as team practice sessions, the organization has committed to plant three trees. For example, in their practice sessions in March alone, teams participating in a 3-point shootout made over 1,000 three-pointers in support of the initiative. As a result, a total of 3,618 trees were planted.

For each 3-pointer scored in a Basketball Africa League game and in any of their activations such as team practice sessions, the organization has committed to plant three trees. For example, in their practice sessions in March alone, teams participating in a 3-point shootout made over 1,000 three-pointers in support of the initiative. As a result, a total of 3,618 trees were planted.

Meanwhile, Basketball Africa League continues to utilize the power of sports and social media to showcase the importance of environmental consciousness. Every time fans engage with them on social media, a tree is planted. This means one tree for every like on Facebook, every tweet or retweet on Twitter, or every share of the BAL content on social media.

With this approach, the organization intends to promote concrete actions towards the restoration of the ecosystem, fight desertification and increase climate change awareness in Africa, as well as individual actions people can take to support the Great Green Wall.

The BAL Season 3 is scheduled to take place in March 2023. The Sahara Conference will be held in Dakar, Senegal with six teams battling to get to the top 4 to move to the BAL playoffs in Kigali. The Nile Conference will be held a month later in Cairo, Egypt. Six other teams will battle to get to the top 4 to qualify for the playoffs in Kigali. The finals will be played around May 2023 with eight playoff teams.

Catch it if you can!

Artmotion S.Africa

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