Unsurprisingly all eyes are currently on the NBA Playoffs. After a long season and a dramatic Play-In tournament, the 16 lucky postseason teams were finally revealed. The Playoffs have got off to an electric start as well, and there is still plenty of time to join the fun by browsing the latest NBA lines.
While the postseason is drawing most attention it is not the only recent basketball story worthy of coverage. On May 16 the Basketball Africa League (BAL) finally tipped off for the first time. Delayed for a year due to coronavirus, the initiative is backed by the NBA, a partnership likely to see both teams benefit over the coming decade.
Simply put, it is one of the most exciting innovations to happen in the sport for some time. Below is an easy to understand guide to the BAL.
What is the Basketball Africa League?
The Basketball Africa League is a 12-team competition featuring franchises from different countries across the continent. Qualification through winning their respective domestic leagues is most common, although national associations can send any team they wish. For the 2021 season, the following teams made the cut:
- AS Douanes – Senegal
- AS Police – Mali
- AS Salé – Morocco
- FAP – Cameroon
- Ferroviário de Maputo – Mozambique
- GNBC – Madagascar
- GS Pétroliers – Algeria
- Patriots – Rwanda
- Petro de Luanda – Angola
- Rivers Hoopers – Nigeria
- US Monastir – Tunisia
- Zamalek – Egypt
At the start of the competition the teams are halved into two Conferences, playing each other once. After these five games the top three teams progress to the Super 6, where they again play each other once. From here the top four progress into a seeded, single-elimination tournament. Teams are allowed four foreign players on their roster, including a maximum of two non-Africans.
Patriots created headlines when they selected rapper J Cole as one of their overseas picks. Cole played college basketball to a good level and has spoken about his desire to play in the NBA in the past.
What the NBA has said about the BAL
When plans for the BAL were announced Adam Silver, as quoted by CBS Sports, said: “The Basketball Africa League is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa.
“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.”
NBA legend Dikemba Mutombo, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has also thrown his support behind the plans.
“Africa is a continent full of secrets and treasure and I think all this treasure is going to be found,” he told BBC Sport. “As this game is about to start, there will be more players coming out from the continent that we haven’t seen before.”
How the BAL Could Affect Africa
The BAL is great news for African basketball. For the first time ever there is a continental competition with an international broadcasting deal for teams to compete in. With more eyes on their teams, basketball is bound to increase in popularity. This will grow the player pool across the continent and drive up standards in the future.
The BAL will also see investment like never before in the African game. Huge companies such as Air Jordan, Nike and Pepsi have all struck sponsorship deals with the competition. This combined with the television rights sale will see all the teams involved benefit massively.
The BAL has the potential to transcend basketball as well. An increase in investment for basketball training camps and other youth services will have educational benefits that go further than the sport itself. The BAL could be just what the continent needs to stimulate development in the region.
What the BAL Means for the NBA
For the NBA the BAL offers another scouting ground for talent. More than ever before the association is a truly international competition. Giannis Antekoumpko, Lucu Doncic and Nikola Jovic are all future or past MVPs and none of them are from the United States.
Joel Embiid, another future MVP who has starred for the Philadelphia 76ers, is testament to the incredible talent in Africa. He was born in Cameroon before being discovered at basketball camp and moving to the United States aged 16.
Spotting Embiid has paid off big for the NBA and finding future stars like him will become easier with all the best African players now competing against each other.
In the future it is not out of the realm of possibility that NBA teams send their prospects to BAL clubs to give them experience of a high pressure situation akin to the Playoffs. There are no such agreements in place yet but as this would benefit both parties, it should not be ruled out.
What the BAL Means for International Basketball
The BAL is also another key step in building basketball’s popularity around the world. The NBA is not the only organization masterminding the plans. FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, were involved as well. They will be hoping that the BAL helps to grow basketball’s reputation.
“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,” FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis said back in 2019.
“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.”