On February 16, 2019, Amadou Fall proudly stood on stage with Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Dikembe Mutombo, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, and numerous other NBA basketball dignitaries, WNBA and the world as basketball The Africa League (BAL) has been announced. The initial expectation was that the first BAL season would take place in seven African cities starting in 2020. However, the coronavirus pandemic delayed those plans.
On Sunday, the BAL will finally tip when the Nigeria Rivers Hoopers in Kigali, Rwanda take on the Kigali Patriots BBC. For Fall, the BAL President, it will be emotional.
« It’s one of those things that is on your mind, but we can’t plan how you feel, » Fall told The Undefeated. “But all I know is the amount of work that many people have put into this, and you think of all of those who worked behind the scenes, not just last year but before. And this is a combination of decades of work by many people to bring the game on the continent not only to the global stage, but also to build an ecosystem here on the continent.
« Only the support we receive from the top level at the NBA and also at the FIBA will manifest itself in reality on May 16th. So there is a lot of anticipation, not just for me, but for everyone involved. » I think it will be something unique and special. I just don’t know what the moment will be, but I’m looking forward to it. «
The BAL, a partnership between the NBA and the International Basketball Federation, will include 12 teams from across Africa: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia This is the NBA’s first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America.
The teams will play 26 games at the Kigali Arena. Former NBA player Ben Uzoh (Nigeria), former McDonald’s All American Myck Kabongo ( Mozambique), famous rapper J. Cole and several former G League and NCAA Division I players will be attending the BAL.
The following is a Q&A with fall on the arrival of the BAL, the challenges of the pandemic and the Future of the league.
The Basketball Africa League was one of the first professional sports leagues to interrupt its season on March 4, 2020 due to the pandemic nine days before its planned debut in Dakar, Senegal Going through my head?
I remember talking to [the NBA Assistant Commissioner] Mark Tatum when we really started thinking about it. I remember one [COVID-19] case in Tunisia and then in other countries where teams were sent to the BAL. This thing is such an historic opportunity for the continent and we didn’t want to take any chances launching it under any kind of cloud or uncertainty. And we had people who were concerned. We were about to book all team flights to Dakar. And then I know a lot of people, fans from all over the world, who have already bought tickets for the future.
But look, the safety and health of everyone involved has priority and priority. So it was tough. Obviously you are disappointed. You work very hard for it and it was going to be an amazing moment. At the same time, you put the emotions aside and realistically make sure that you don’t start this with risks and then just hang a cloud over you. It was disappointing, but we didn’t hesitate for a second whether this was the right decision or not.
What did you do with that time to move the league to a better place with the 14 additional months?I saw an ESPN story where the Rivers Hoopers coach in Nigeria said it was kind of a blessing in disguise. And for us too, because we wanted to play caravan style for three months and went to seven different countries. So there are many logistical operations that we have to do for the first time. So you never know what to expect. At that time we could definitely know more, learn more. But we also use it as an opportunity to have more to do with our teams.
We talked to the league about building the entire ecosystem. This league will be a key factor in a massive African sports industry. So the idea was that we weren’t just trying to make better players, which we are, and that’s happening right now. We will attract and nurture talent and also be able to keep some of the talent on the continent. But we also want to develop better coaches, we want to develop better referees. We want to develop better team managers, broadcasters, all those jobs that involve getting a professional basketball product on the field.
That’s why we’re talking about the BAL as the engine of economic growth for the continent. You see these countries are starting to build this infrastructure because they agree with the idea that sport can actually make a huge contribution to the country’s GDP, just as it does for most western countries. We spend time getting involved and we continue to push for more governments to engage in sports beyond this recovery. And of course with basketball, where we show specific examples. And that’s why we’re excited to have a great regular season over the next few weeks.
Has there been a certain moment since you arrived in Rwanda that meant a lot to you?
Landing at the airport and how smoothly everything went ran, because you will also be tested at the airport. Just the organizational level of our events group, our security department and our medical department that work seamlessly with the random authorities to really create an environment. This is why we decided to come to Rwanda because we knew that this was where we had the best chance of completing the single-site season in a safe environment and positioning ourselves for success.
Let Test yourself once a day, that’s the protocol. This is my first time in quarantine. It was good. It was ok. And then you try to host a global event and something that has never been done before. It is certainly an opportunity to really make history in basketball for Africa. But definitely on the global stage too, because for the first time the NBA teamed up to create a professional league that was eagerly awaited due to the long wait.
But I think because everyone has a measure of what the moment means what the opportunity means, and I am talking about all teams and all pro teams, all players, employees and the various associations involved, partners. Everyone strictly follows this protocol, and everyone works together to make sure we position ourselves for success.
Did the BAL take many similar things out of the Orlando, Florida NBA bubble for your bubble?
Dr. Leroy Sims leads us here with Dr. Prince Campbell, a Ghanaian BAL medical director, and Dr. Ralph Roberts. These are NBA people who have a great amount of experience. You lead the indictment and put it all together. Without going into the details of what was done in Orlando compared to here, I am just reassured to know that we have this caliber of medical professionals to prosecute us here.
I love the talent . It’s a very good level. We have around 20 players with G League and NCAA experience. These are players I know and have seen during my scouting days with the Mavericks. Not specific, but Walter Hodge won a championship with Florida with Udonis Haslem and Joakim Noah. Myck Kabongo played in Texas. Ben Uzoh. I’ve seen some young Americans get very excited. And exactly the way in which they were received here, the level of professionalism, the organization, that is what they all comment on.
What do you think of the rapper J. Cole, who plays in the BAL with the Rwanda Patriots BBC , and how does that help spread the word about the league?
It’s exciting that all-rounder J. Cole has the skills to be part of the incredible group of players who will compete against each other in the first season of the Africa League Basketball. Having spoken to him directly over the past few days, he is very grateful for the opportunity to be part of this groundbreaking initiative and takes his preparation for the Games very seriously. I look forward to seeing what impact he has on the BAL when the first game ends on Sunday.
Do you think the BAL could have a player drafted by the NBA this year?
The main priority for me is to ensure that I attract top talent from all over the world as well as top talent from across the continent. And I see what I mentioned is this former campus at Basketball Without Borders [Africa] coming back. This really is the sign that these guys are now playing all over the world, knowing with it that they are coming home. And there are a large number of them.
For example, if I look at the national teams, there are a lot of BAL players who play in [African] national teams. They choose to stay in their country and play professionally to play for the [local] club because they want to win the local championship to participate in this league, the Champions League of this continent. Of course, I don’t know every single player, but I can tell you that there will be many who can play. For example, I know some young players who were in the SEEDS [the first basketball student sports academy at the Africa Academy in Senegal] who play in teams.
But there is no doubt that we have NBA scouts become. There are some coming this season. But I think this will be a showcase and another tool for NBA teams to evaluate talent. I don’t know about this year because we have to see.
Not this calendar year, but we know that, thanks to the partnership with FIBA, six of our 12 teams come from certain countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Angola. And this is really based on the basketball landscape in terms of countries with traditions and talents and infrastructure and interests in basketball. You have the six that came from FIBA qualifiers.
So FIBA will host this qualification again. … We will bring the champions from the six countries that won this year, as well as the six that will come from the FIBA qualifiers that we will be supporting in the last quarter of this year.
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We have an idea, but we will communicate about it. It will be in 2022. Certainly not in the first quarter. But we’ll find a window there. We hope the pandemic is at a different stage and that we get back to our originally planned format.
Marc J. Spears is the NBA senior writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to get involved with you, but he hadn’t been able to get involved in years and his knees still hurt.
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