BASKETBALL AFRICA LEAGUE, THE NEXT STEP IN THE NBA'S GLOBAL EXPANSION
Updated: Mar 8
This article was originally published on March 11th, 2020.
The tip-off of the inaugural season of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) has been postponed due to health concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak.
The first BAL campaign was due to start in the Senegalese capital Dakar on 13 March. BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall (@amadougallofall) said he is still hopeful the NBA’s new 12-team league will still debut later this year.
Organizers for the Basketball Africa League stated the safety of fans, players, teams, and employees are their priority, after announcing the delay to the start of the first season.
“Following the recommendation of the Senegalese government regarding the escalating health concerns related to the coronavirus, the BAL's inaugural season will be postponed,” said BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall.
“I am disappointed we are not able to tip-off this historic league as scheduled but look forward to the highly anticipated launch of the BAL at a later date.”
At the time of publication, there were four confirmed cases of coronavirus in Senegal, with 45 cases confirmed throughout the continent.
BAL has become the latest sports property to face severe disruptions courtesy of coronavirus.
So far, the 2020 IIHF Women's World Championship, due to be held in Canada was canceled, MotoGP has canceled its first two races of 2020 and the Serie A, Italian soccer's top-flight, has been suspended.
Other sports events are continuing to monitor the situation, including the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with organizers saying they are “seriously concerned” over the situation.
Since being introduced to the African continent in the 1960s, basketball has trailed behind soccer in popularity.
Despite this, the sport has been making tremendous strides in recent years, thanks to the deep pockets of the NBA.
The NBA and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced in February of 2019, their plans to launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL), a new professional league featuring 12 teams from across the African continent.
This partnership marks the first time the NBA has been involved with the operation of a league outside of North America.
“On FIBA’s behalf, it’s a huge joy to see our partnership with the NBA enter unchartered territory as we work together for the first time to maximize the potential of professional basketball in Africa,” said Andreas Zagklis, Secretary-General of FIBA. “This is a natural extension of what we have done through the joint initiative that is Basketball Without Borders (BWB), which helps find, develop and nurture young talented players all around the world, including in Africa. The Basketball Africa League will enable us to build on the solid foundation laid by FIBA Africa and relaunch the continent’s club competition to offer the ultimate platform for the very best clubs and players.”
FIBA Africa Executive Director Alphonse Bilé said“We’re excited to work closely with the NBA to develop and put in a place a professional league like none that we have ever seen in our region before. Through the Basketball Africa League, we can provide the many great clubs and players with the best possible environment to compete for the highest stakes. The implementation of this league is also vital to our young up-and-coming players in Africa as it gives them something to take aim at: they can look at becoming players who can play and evolve in these competitions, right on their continent.”
“The Basketball Africa League is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa,” said Commissioner of the NBA Adam Silver. “Combined with our other programs on the continent, we are committed to using basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media, and technology across Africa.”
“The establishment of the Basketball Africa League is another exciting milestone for the NBA in Africa,” said Gallo Fall. “Having a top-flight professional basketball league in Africa will provide a platform for elite players to showcase their talent and inspire more young boys and girls to play the game.”
NBA and FIBA’s involvement in BAL will include financial support and resources toward the continued growth of the game on the continent, as well as providing training for players, coaches, and referees and some infrastructure for the new league.
Furthermore, Gallo Fall added, “This league will be fully operated by the NBA.”
“The ingredients have always been there in terms of talent and passion for the game,” Gallo Fall said in an interview. “There is a huge opportunity to create something really authentically African that could be a home for the tremendous talent that exists.”
The league's inaugural season will be comprised of 12 club teams from 12 African countries.
The champions from the domestic leagues in Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia, were all guaranteed representation in the inaugural BAL season. The remaining six teams, which come from Algeria, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, and Rwanda, secured their participation through BAL qualifying tournaments conducted by FIBA Africa across the continent in late 2019.
What basketball fans can expect from the inaugural season is that the 12 teams from across Africa will be divided into two conferences, with each conference playing in three cities. Each team will play five games in the regular season, facing every team in its conference once, for a total of 30 regular-season games.
The top three from each conference advancing, to a six-team round-robin that will eventually determine the Final Four.
The host cities for the inaugural BAL regular season are Cairo (Egypt), Dakar (Senegal), Lagos (Nigeria), Luanda (Angola), Monastir (Tunisia) and Salé (Morocco). While Kigali (Rwanda) will host the first-ever BAL Playoffs and Finals.
"This is a historic moment as we welcome the 12 teams that will participate in our inaugural season," Gallo Fall said in a statement. "These teams have earned the opportunity to represent their respective countries and will establish the BAL as a world-class product that entertains fans of all ages."
Each of the BAL's 12 teams will have a 16-man roster (12 active and four inactive), at least eight of whom will be citizens of their respective teams’ home country and up to four of whom can be from other countries. Each team can have a maximum of two players who are from outside of Africa.
Furthermore, the league also signed a major partnership with Nike and Jordan Brand to exclusively outfit the 12 teams with practice and game equipment.
The NBA has had its eyes on Africa for a while due to the continent's economic potential and potential talent pool.
In 2034, Africa is expected to have the world’s largest working-age population of 1.1 billion, according to We Forum, which also projects that Africa’s consumers will spend $2 trillion by 2025.
However, the league has not been developed as an easy way for the NBA and even the NCAA to scout talent.
"This is by no means an exercise of coming in and plucking away talent,” Gallo Fall said. “We do not want to just see African talent only being exported because there is no viable league for young players to participate at a high level. This ultimately led to the formation of the African basketball league.”
The goal of creating this league in Africa is not only to expose and invest in the local talent there but to create an entire system that allows a league to run efficiently from the ground up. Even opening the ability to create jobs within the countries represented.
The league also offers basketball the ability to now compete with soccer as the continent's favorite sport, by increasing awareness “The NBA is a lifestyle brand that we are going to establish in Africa,” said Gallo Fall.
The creation of BAL will certainly strengthen the NBA's talent pipeline in Africa, which has already produced over 80 current and former players, including 2019 MVP candidates Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) and Pascal Siakam (@pskills43), both of whom are from Cameroon. Embiid signed a five-year contract with the team worth nearly $150 million in 2017.
“This is important. This is something I wished I had growing up. The only way kids leave the country is to go abroad, not to go to another African country. Now, they see what is in other African countries and see what the other countries are facing. It’s a game-changer," said the Democratic Republic of the Congo-born Bismack Biyombo (@bismackbiyombo).
The league will tremendously impact the lives of local sports fans. Now young athletes can see it and begin to believe that they can do that too, reducing the current gaps.
If the BAL can prove successful for the NBA in revolutionizing the basketball landscape under the banner of the NBA, don't expect that BAL will be a one-hit-wonder.