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‘The NBA has come to us’: inside basketball’s $1bn play for Africa – The Guardian

On a March evening at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, an agent beckoned me over to the check-in counter and asked for my passport. As he thumbed through its pages, he paused on the page with a red visa stamp and an imprint of a baobab tree.

“What’s your reason for traveling to Senegal?” he asked in a tone simultaneously neutral and stern.

“I’m attending a basketball tournament there,” I told him.

“Oh, some people flew from here only a few days ago carrying jerseys,” he said, perking up in his chair. He told me he was from Senegal himself. “Basketball is coming up in Senegal,” he said proudly.

I thought of the agent as I watched the the opening ceremony of the second season of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) at the 15,000-capacity Dakar Arena – a spectacle of color, music and dancing against a backdrop of raucously cheering fans. Videos would later circulate on social media of Dikembe Mutombo – the Congolese star who played nearly two decades in the NBA and who is now an investor in its nascent African project – dancing with fans. All around the arena, people sang and waved the green, yellow and red flag of Senegal.

“In Africa, when something special is happening in a family, we need to celebrate,” Mutombo would tell me later in a phone interview, laughing. “It’s always been my dream since I got into the league: I want to see the next Dikembe Mutombo playing in the NBA. I want to see the NBA on my continent. The continent of Africa was a place full of treasure and I was happy to see that taking place.”

Mutombo’s joy reminded me of something similar that the journalist Syra Sylla told me weeks earlier. A French-Senegalese basketball writer, who played basketball growing up in France, she was “obsessed” with NBA basketball, particularly the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We all dreamt of Europe and the United States, but now we have this league,” she said. “It’s like the NBA has come to us. We can see and admire players in Africa, and it’s great to have those role models who are good.”

Clube Atlético Petroleos de Luanda huddles after an April game against the BC Espoir Fukash at the Hassan Mostafa Indoor Sports Complex. Photograph: Armand Lenoir/BAL/NBAE/Getty Images

BAL is a joint project between the NBA and Fiba, basketball’s world governing body, that hopes to tap into a market with a huge, tech-savvy and youthful population, while also giving African hoopers the platform to showcase their talent on the continent and a potential path to one day star in the US. Those who have shown their support for the league include Mutumbo, Barack Obama, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and some of Africa’s top businessmen.

“There is now a clear pathway, back from grassroots to elite, where a young boy, no matter where they are from, can dream about playing the sport, have access to play the sport, …….

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2022/jul/01/basketball-africa-league-nba-african-expansion

On a March evening at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, an agent beckoned me over to the check-in counter and asked for my passport. As he thumbed through its pages, he paused on the page with a red visa stamp and an imprint of a baobab tree.

“What’s your reason for traveling to Senegal?” he asked in a tone simultaneously neutral and stern.

“I’m attending a basketball tournament there,” I told him.

“Oh, some people flew from here only a few days ago carrying jerseys,” he said, perking up in his chair. He told me he was from Senegal himself. “Basketball is co…….

On a March evening at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, an agent beckoned me over to the check-in counter and asked for my passport. As he thumbed through its pages, he paused on the page with a red visa stamp and an imprint of a baobab tree.

“What’s your reason for traveling to Senegal?” he asked in a tone simultaneously neutral and stern.

“I’m attending a basketball tournament there,” I told him.

“Oh, some people flew from here only a few days ago carrying jerseys,” he said, perking up in his chair. He told me he was from Senegal himself. “Basketball is co…….

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