The NBA and Africa – Mining the Basketball Potential

There is no doubt that basketball is one of the fastest growing sport codes. Thanks to the power and allure of the United States NBA. The NBA is the ultimate dream-land for any young and talented basketball player. Competition is so fierce, even amongst the American players themselves such that only the exceptionally talented make it to the most lucrative basketball league in the world. Other leagues are also coming up, with Euro League Basketball also making a meaningful impact in the development of the game globally. Countries such as France, Greece, Lithuania and Turkey are home to some of the most fanatical followers of the game.  

The coming of the first high profile NBA match to Africa with Team Africa playing the World Select Team is a seismic shift in the globalization of the game. It is an acknowledgement by the power brokers of the game in the United States that indeed Africa is the new frontier in the development of basketball.  There is absolutely no doubt that this game promotes exhilarating athletic prowess and flair while providing some of the most memorable experiences in sport.  “His Royal Airness”, the great Michael Jordan continues to be the standard bearer and inspiration for the game despite the fact that it is now about two decades since he retired from active participation in the game. His achievements in basketball are now a matter of public knowledge and global recognition as the supreme icon of the game. The sneakers bearing his name still command a significant price in the market and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Jordan sneakers do cost an arm and a leg. This amply demonstrates that basketball is no longer just fun and games. It is a viable entertainment industry capable of employing thousands of young people, even here in Southern Africa.

Here in Africa, basketball, like most sports on the continent, is dominated by the North and West African countries. Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal are powerhouses on the continent. Angola and Mozambique in Southern Africa have been making gallant efforts and in-roads to break the stranglehold of the North and West Africans on the game. In fact, they are the only two countries capable of upsetting the apple-cart, as it were, during continental competitions at junior and senior levels for both men and women. The rest of Africa are just trudging along behind these leading countries.

Basketball is officially an indoor game, requiring substantial capital outlay in terms of construction of world class sports halls where the sport can be played under the auspices of the International Federation of Basketball Associations (FIBA) rules. At grassroots and development levels, the game can also be played outdoors. This is where the biggest investments and concentrations of efforts should be made, especially here in Southern Africa.  When basketball administrators talk about facilities development, central and local government authorities go into panic mode as they envision being required to construct world class facilities such as the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, USA. However, the truth of the matter is that even in the United States, most of the basketball development and skills acquisition takes place on outdoor courts. There is therefore no immediate or urgent requirement to construct world class indoor sports halls where the game can be played. What is required is investment in outdoor courts for major cities, towns and villages of Southern Africa.

 There is need for basketball authorities and other stakeholders in Southern Africa to take advantage of the increasing popularity of the game, especially its affinity and close association with the global and youthful hip-hop culture of contemporary generations. The game can therefore be utilized as a medium or supportive tool for other noble social interventions such as adolescent sexual and reproductive health programmes, HIV/AIDS prevention as well as combating alcohol and drug abuse amongst young people. Whilst the young people are enjoying themselves at the basketball courts, they provide a captive audience also for critical issues such as crime prevention and overall safety and security for any community.

The advent of the NBA in Africa bringing all their marketing tools of the trade can only be good for the development of the game on the continent, especially in this region. Young people, particularly in disadvantaged and under-privileged areas are very much bored because of chronic shortage of socially acceptable means of entertainment and recreation. Hence, they end up indulging in alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, juvenile delinquency and petty crime.

History and scientific evidence has taught us that prevention is better than cure. It is much cheaper to invest in sports facilities, including affordable outdoor basketball courts, rather than manage effects of the break-down of social and cultural values engendered by rapid urbanization. Although, football still draws a lot of crowds, a lot of youngsters are now gravitating towards basketball. Sports authorities have no option but to simply take advantage of this popularity by “mining the gold and diamonds” of this sport industry. The basketball fever is spreading.  It is indeed game on!

July 2015
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