The Basketball Africa League is set to get underway in March, with 12 teams, each from a different African nation battling it out to secure the competition’s inaugural silverware.
Africa has produced some of the NBA’s most renowned and decorated stars in recent years, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was raised by Nigerian parents as well as Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid, both of whom were born in Cameroon.
All three will take part in this weekend’s All-Star game in Chicago, but what did each of them think about the prospect of a tournament in Africa?
Giannis, who represented Team Africa in the first Africa game in Johannesburg in 2015, said “It’s amazing creating a league in Africa. Giving opportunities to African talent and African players to go out there and showcase their talent. I knew it was going to happen, and I’m pretty happy I was able to execute it with Nike and Masai and all those people. “
Masai Ujiri, the former Nigerian basketball executive and player, has indeed had a huge influence on not only the formation of the African league but also the discovery of African talent in the NBA. Now, the president of basketball operations at the Toronto Raptors, Ujiri helped bring Pascal Siakam to the United States, aged just 16. Now, a first-time All-Star, Siakam thinks the creation of BAL is an unbelievable achievement.
“It’s definitely the next step,” he said. “ It’s something that we as a continent should be proud of, and it shows that the world is recognising our talent. That league is going to be a big thing for us. We have to continue to bring that awareness to the game and make sure that we pay it forward.”
Also originating from Cameroon, Joel Embiid echoed the significance of a league in Africa.
“I think having a basketball league in Africa is going to be great,” Embiid stressed.” As you can see through me, Pascal (Siakam), a couple of guys in the league, Serge (Ibaka), there’s a lot of talent over there. I think the NBA taking the initiative of opening a new league over there is great. There’s a lot of talent. We just need the right people to teach us and we’re going to be fine. “
Embiid also highlighted the potential for undiscovered talent to make a name for themselves.
“I think it’s really important because there’s a lot of special talent that the world doesn’t know about. If you look at the guys in the league who have been able to make it, there’s probably somebody better than me or has the potential to be better than me in the future. So I think it’s a great initiative.”
Cameroon have secured their qualification for this year’s BAL league through qualifying tournaments, whilst Nigeria were already guaranteed representation.
With so many African NBA athletes continuing to make a name for themselves, and the plethora of undiscovered talent, the inaugural season of BAL can only be seen as a good thing for the future of basketball in general.