How the NBA, NFL are forging talent in Africa
By Andrea Montolivo
Chicago, USA, Jun 24 (EFE).- The NBA and the NFL have never been so closely tied to Africa. Both American leagues are investing millions of dollars in expansion and development projects on the continent to provide a platform for emerging talents.
The NBA-founded Basketball Africa League has just successfully wrapped up its second season after a tumultuous launch due to Covid-19, while the NFL this week unveiled a new training campus in Ghana.
“I am an example of what it looks like to give a person an opportunity in Africa,” Nigerian-American basketball player Festus Ezeli, who won the 2015 NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors, tells Efe.
The BAL, which brings together 12 teams, also marks a major step forward in the promotion of basketball in Africa with its well-equipped training centers and close ties to American universities, providing aspirational players a chance to join the likes of Ime Udoka, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Serge Ibaka and Ezeli.
“What the League in Africa does is that it gives people an opportunity, it shows that basketball or sports can be an opportunity for a job,” Ezeli adds.
“It gets me very excited to know the League is focused on developing talent in Africa and also giving them a platform to earn money.”
There was no such thing as the BAL when Ezeli was growing up.
“I came to the US without knowing anything about basketball,” he says.
“I was able to turn it into a career. I was able to use it to get my school to pay for it, I was able to turn it into a whole bunch of other opportunities and that first came with the chance to play the game, (something) that we didn’t have when I was there,” he adds.
Winner of the Golden State Warriors’ first NBA title of the Steve Kerr era in 2015, Ezeli has spent five years in the NBA culminating in a move to the Portland Trail Blazers that was ultimately thwarted by injury.
Now aged 32, he has moved into the world of TV journalism with NBC Bay Area.
BAL, MORE THAN A TALENT SHOWCASE
The BAL pits a dozen teams from different African countries against each other in a three-month regular season and playoffs styled after the NBA format.
This year, Tunisian team US Monastir took the crown from Egypt’s Zamalek.
The league not only acts as a showcase for talent in Africa but it is broadcast to 215 countries around the world in 14 different languages.
This year the organization also launched BAL Elevate, which will allow 12 talented players in the NBA’s Africa academy to move up to the big league.
Many talented young players in the Africa academy are already on the radar of American college teams, which act as a trampoline to the NBA.
The NBA’s commitment to African talent is evidenced by the likes of Nigerian-American Ime Udoka, who this year helped the Boston Celtics to the Finals; Serge Ibaka, of Congolese origin, a 2019 NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors and his fellow countryman Bismack Biyombo, who this year set a franchise rebound record with the Phoenix Suns.