The evidence of how far African basketball has come in a short while can be seen all over the rosters of the top NBA teams.

There were 22 African players on NBA rosters during the 2019-20 season. With the league down to its final four in the Eastern and Western Conference final, there are still four players from Africa with a chance to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champions.

The Miami Heat, the -155 favorites to win the Eastern Conference title in the odds at the MyBookie online sportsbook, go two deep in African players. Shooting guard Chris Silva is from Gabon, while point guard Gabe Vincent calls Nigeria home.

"Launch of Giants of Africa Basketball Court | Kigali, 8 August 2017" by Paul Kagame is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Boston Celtics, Miami’s opponent, suit up 7-foot-7 center Tacko Fall of Senegal. In the Western Conference final, Denver Nuggets 7-foot-2 rookie center Bol Bol of Sudan is the son of NBA legend Manute Bol.

Among the four teams left, only the Los Angeles Lakers suit up a roster bereft of African players.

Last season, Pascal Siakam of Cameroon and Serge Ibaka of Congo helped the Toronto Raptors to capture the 2018-19 NBA championship, the first-ever won by the franchise.

A league of their own

Hoping to create an avenue for even more top African players to find a way to a career in basketball, in February 2020 the NBA and FIBA unveiled plans to launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL), a pro league. The hope is that the league will launch with franchises in 12 African cities in January of 2021.

"Unveiling of the Basketball Africa League Logo | Kigali, 19 December 2019" by Paul Kagame is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Qualification tournaments are slated to be held later this year to determine the clubs that will participate in the league’s inaugural season. Teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia are expected to be among those taking part. No nation will be permitted to have more than two teams in the league.

“As we’ve been talking about this concept over the last several months, there’s been a tremendous reception from several of our NBA team owners,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Associated Press. “Several of our partners have also expressed an interest to work with us in Africa.

“Africa has a huge economic engine.”

Pepsi and Nike’s Jordan Brand are among league partners who have contacted the NBA to become part of the BAL. Former US President Barack Obama — an enormous basketball fan — is also interested in playing a direct role in the league, the specifics of which have yet to be determined.

To help build excitement and also inform basketball fans, “BAL Hang Time”, a new biweekly interview series dedicated to African basketball, culture, lifestyle and art, is being carried on the BAL YouTube channel. Hosted by BAL Head of Content and Programming Youcef Ouldyassia, the show features African leaders, former players, coaches, artists and media personalities associated with and active in the game of basketball on the African continent.

For more information on the Basketball Africa League, fans can follow @theBAL on Facebook (www.facebook.com/theBAL/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/theBAL) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/thebal/).

Williams Hired

In August, the NBA named Victor Williams CEO of NBA Africa. Williams, an accomplished investment banking executive with extensive experience growing businesses across the U.S. and Africa, will be based in the league’s Johannesburg office and report to NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum.

Williams will oversee the league’s basketball and business development initiatives in Africa and will be responsible for continuing to grow the popularity of basketball and the NBA across the continent through grassroots development, media distribution, corporate partnerships, and more.

For the last five years, Williams served as the Executive Head of Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB), Africa Regions for Standard Bank Group, where he oversaw the strategy, execution and financial performance for Standard Bank’s business with corporate, sovereign and institutional investor clients in 19 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

“Becoming CEO of NBA Africa is a compelling opportunity to join the NBA – a widely-respected and admired, globally-oriented sports enterprise,” Williams said in a statement. “It allows me to blend my professional experience building businesses in Africa with my passion for the sport of basketball. I look forward to working with our colleagues in Johannesburg and Dakar to help grow basketball’s commercial and social impact in Africa and on the world stage.”

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