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The Basketball Africa League (BAL) just completed its second season, with US Monastir winning its first championship over Petro de Luanda 83-72. According to the NBA, the championship game reached fans in 215 countries.
The response to BAL
According to John Manyo-Plange, the BAL Vice President, Head of Strategy & Operations, reactions to the BAL from the global basketball community has been positive.
“The response has been tremendous. Last season was held at a single site due to the pandemic, so this year’s caravan format has allowed more fans across the continent to experience the excitement of the BAL in person. We expanded the competition to a total of 38 games in three cities over three months. The atmospheres at the games in Dakar, Cairo and so far during the playoffs in Kigali has been electric, particularly when Dakar Université Club (Senegal), defending BAL champion Zamalek (Egypt) and REG (Rwanda) played in front of their hometown fans.”
Manyo-Plange also touched on the league’s recent expansion.
“This season the BAL featured four new countries and seven new teams, three of whom qualified for the Playoffs: Cape Town Tigers (South Africa), Rwanda Energy Group (Rwanda) and Seydou Legacy Athlétique Club (Guinea). Overall, the basketball stakeholders we’ve heard from have expressed support and appreciation for what the BAL is doing to transform Africa’s basketball ecosystem and inspire fans across the continent and around the world.”
NBA talent injection
Fans of the NBA will no doubt look at the BAL and dream of more talent making it to the world’s largest, and most popular, basketball league. Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors are both Cameroonian, and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks have ties to Nigeria. All three are in the upper echelon of NBA royalty, making Africa an attractive place to seek out further talent.
Manyo-Plange understands the interest, and believes the BAL can be used as a springboard to bigger things, while also standing on its own two legs.
“The BAL provides a platform for top players from Africa to showcase their talent on a global stage, which in turn inspires more young boys and girls who may be future BAL, NBA or WNBA players to play the game. The BAL joins Basketball Without Borders Africa and NBA Academy Africa in creating a platform and pathway for these top players to reach their potential. In addition, this season we launched “BAL Elevate,” a new program that placed one NBA Academy Africa prospect on each of the 12 BAL teams. The program provides an opportunity for the next generation of African prospects to compete at the professional level, showcase their talent on a global stage and help their respective teams compete for the 2022 BAL championship. We believe that as the BAL continues to grow, the talent level will as well, and the league will become a destination and springboard for the best players on the continent.”
The long-term view of the BAL
Implementing a brand-new league into the heart of Africa means more than just keeping fans entertained with basketball. It means potential growth in the financial sector, according to Manyo-Plange.
“We believe that basketball can become a top sport in Africa and that the BAL can be one of the top professional leagues in the world in the next 10 years. The BAL is a pan-African league, and our hope is that as basketball, the BAL and NBA Africa continue to grow, countries and governments will be incentivized to invest in the game and the infrastructure around it because they see the value in doing so: not only can basketball be an economic growth engine, but it also has the power to change lives. Overall, we’re committed to establishing the BAL as a world-class league that champions inclusion and youth development, promotes health and wellness, provides an entertaining product for fans of all ages, exports our values, and drives economic growth across the continent.”
Manyo-Plange adds that the league believes they’re just getting started, and points to the NBA’s history in Africa as a driving force.
“The NBA has a long history in Africa and opened its African headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2010 before opening additional offices in Dakar, Senegal, and Lagos, Nigeria. The league’s efforts on the continent have focused on increasing access to basketball and the NBA through grassroots and elite development, social responsibility, media distribution, corporate partnerships, NBA Africa Games, the BAL and more. And many of these efforts are pan-African in nature and reaching both developed and developing nations. NBA games and programming are available in all 54 African countries, Jr. NBA programming has been implemented in 15 countries, and the BAL brings together 12 professional teams from 12 countries each season. Even with everything we’re doing to make basketball more accessible, we believe we’re just scratching the surface of the impact the game can have on one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing populations. The launch of NBA Africa as a standalone entity with the support of strategic investors and partners, including former U.S. President Barack Obama and Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker, will contribute to future growth and unlock opportunities for the NBA across the continent,” Manyo-Plange concludes.
Ike Diogu Q&A
Former NBA lottery pick Ike Diogu, who plays for Zamalek Basketball Club, is also enthusiastic about the league, and agreed to do a Q&A.
After a long career that included over 200 NBA games, and successful stints in China, what made you join the BAL?
“Obviously, this is the premier league in all of Africa, and as somebody who is very passionate about basketball on the continent, I thought it was a good look for me. I saw a lot of guys that I knew play in the inaugural season, so I was just blessed and fortunate to get an opportunity to play for Zamalek and my former coach, Coach Voigt.”
The league is obviously a major development for the continent of Africa in terms of basketball. What do you think needs to be the next step for the NBA to see a more potent influx of African players?
“I think they just need to keep doing what they’re doing. This is only Year 2, so its popularity is going to continue to grow. Obviously everyone knows of the immense talent that Africa has, so really just continue to market and continue to show on TV, because a lot of people want to play in this league, because of the exposure. Anytime the NBA attaches themselves it comes with a lot of exposure itself. So, just continue to do what they have been doing.”
The BAL obviously also needs to stand on its own legs, and not just to be a farmer league for the NBA, so how does it balance that?
“It’s a league that’s still in its infancy, but already has a lot of popularity that’s going to continue to grow. When you have somebody like the NBA definitely helping with the league and the notoriety, it’s only going to continue to grow, and get better and better. But eventually the league is going to take on an identity of its own and be one of the better leagues in the world, in my opinion.”
As a player, what have you seen in terms of response from players and fans to the implementation of the BAL, and can you talk a little about the level of excitement there is about further development of the league?
“There’s a lot of excitement. Everybody keeps saying, especially when it comes to international competition that the world is catching up with the USA. Mainly when they’re saying that, they’re talking about European countries, but Africa is right there. Africa is catching up. As far as everybody knows, we produce top-notch athletes, and now that they’re learning the basics of fundamentals, and when you combine those two things it’s scary. Africa basketball is on the rise. The presentation is great in the BAL games, so the future is bright for Africa, and a lot of people are excited about the BAL and its potential.”