Amadou Fall, the National Basketball Association Vice-President and Managing Director for Africa, tells ’TANA AIYEJINA about the NBA’s programmes and more in this interview in Royal Bafokeng, South Africa
What is the Royal Bafokeng Jnr NBA programme about?
The programme is the pilot programme since we opened our office in 2010 – we opened in 2010 and started this Jnr. NBA in 2011. In so many ways, this is where it all started and this is why in celebration of the achievements of this programme – as well as the South African Sports Industry award we won as the Best Sports Development Programme in the whole country – we decided to celebrate and also congratulate our coaches – 45 of them trained by NBA coaches. This event is symbolic for us because it is an interface between the NBA stars and these kids here who want to be like them. This has made me to know that if we can build it here, we can build it anywhere.
What are your feelings about the Jnr NBA programme in Africa?
We started this programme in partnership with the Royal Bafokeng Sports in South Africa 2011. When we came here, most of these children haven’t been exposed to basketball. We had to go to schools and colleges and convinced them to release their students to try the sport out. The reason why we hosted this Jnr NBA Festival, where five other countries were invited, is to celebrate and pay tribute to the Royal Bafokeng nation. It is also a part of our proposal to use basketball as a tool to empower young people including schoolchildren. The stars, who played in the 2017 NBA Africa Game, had to travel many miles from Johannesburg to watch these kids play and cheer them on. This programme won the Best Sports Development Programme in the country in 2017. I see all these as a monumental achievement. In the coaching aspect too, we started with three coaches who came from the US to train local coaches and as of today, we have 45 certified local coaches in the sport through this programme. It is always a great source of inspiration for us at the NBA to come to Phokeng.
Do you think basketball has the potential to become as big as other sports like football in South Africa and other African countries?
Basketball has the potential to become as big as football – and even surpass the other big sports already here. I have no doubt that more and more young people are going to be drawn into the sport. We love all sports and in fact, at a young age, we encourage kids to take up all sports and as they grow, they will pick the one that is fine by them. But we make sure that we don’t have too many kids over 10 years doing other sports. Basketball is the number two sport globally and in Africa. It is just the opportunity to allow the young ones participate in it that matters. We don’t want the limitations in terms of facilities and infrastructure to stop the young ones from doing the sport. We want to avoid the situations of former NBA stars like Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon, who started very late, but still went on to play for a long time in the NBA. If they had started earlier, they would have put in more years. For each of these two, many others have missed the opportunity to play basketball because they were not exposed to it. This is why having programmes like this will help to grow the sport.
Is there room to grow more on the continent than this?
Yes, there is ample room for more growth. I think this was a group thing we launched in 2011 and it has now grown into 12 Jnr NBA Leagues across 11 countries in Africa. It is really the leadership role that Phokeng Basketball Development Programme has here that has been able to afford us to undertake this. A big part of our goal is to develop that local expertise which will be the machinery to develop basketball on the continent. This programme is a microcosm of what we are hoping to achieve on a larger scale. We want the whole continent to see what we are doing and see that it is for the good of the game on the continent.
What have been the challenges encountered by the NBA officials trying to spread the basketball gospel across Africa?
The major challenge is educating people about the values of the game, making them realise that this is more than sports. We want them to know that a lot of kids have grown up through the school system playing basketball and schooling as well. We saw opportunities in those challenges since we opened in 2010 and they were education opportunities for us as well because we, at the NBA, understand that we are the number one professional sports body globally. We have 30 per cent of the players in the NBA coming from outside the United States and we are committed to bringing this authentic experience to our fans all over the world. We want to ensure that we build the right atmosphere in Africa because we have a growing number of players coming into the league from Africa. We will bring role models from the NBA to speak to our kids in Africa to mould them and inspire them in the right way. Doing this has really helped to alleviate all the challenges we have been facing bringing a new sport (so to speak) especially in a place like South Africa. Our approach in terms of pushing education with basketball as well as community development has helped us overcome most of the challenges. Another challenge was the infrastructure because we had to ensure that to achieve what we aimed at; the facilities have to be in place. As of today, with the help of the Royal Bafokeng nation, we have been able to build over 20 courts in South Africa. In Nigeria, with our partners there, we have some courts in Abuja as well as training coaches to help begin the development locally.
It is a fantastic structure the NBA has in South Africa. Are there plans for other basketball nations like Nigeria, Senegal and Angola?
Absolutely, we are looking at other countries in Africa. When we first opened our office here (South Africa) in 2010, we were looking at five countries – South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Senegal and Kenya. Today, we have programmes in close to 15 countries but we have wrapped up events in more than 25 countries. The NBA Africa Game held in Johannesburg this year but we are already looking at taking it to another country in 2018. But what will drive it are the facilities and the opportunities we have with the people of the country. Nigeria is a huge market and a priority for us at the NBA. We were in Angola last year for Basketball Without Borders – which we have hosted in Senegal before in 2010. Also, we inaugurated the NBA Academy Africa, which will be housed in Senegal. We have a lot of programmes planned for the continent. In our effort to identify talents, we have built a network of coaches and scouts who are going to be deployed in different countries. As of today, we are in 11 countries with the Junior NBA programme and we are making holistic efforts to touch every country on the continent as we aim to develop and grow the sport. We are expanding our coast and we are getting more countries to believe in what we are doing. We have added a few countries to the list and before the end of the year, we should add three more. We are working with schools in Ghana, Rwanda and some others. I believe for now, we are only scratching the surface and we will improve as time goes on. We want to be at every corner of the continent bringing basketball to every young boys and girls. We are excited with what we are doing and what we have achieved in the recent past. We realise that we still have a lot of work to do. We have to continue to enlist the collaboration of people of goodwill and the government to achieve the goals we have set out to reach.
What will it mean to you seeing a kid from any of your African programmes playing in the NBA one day?
Nothing is impossible in life. The determination of these young players for their teams is amazing. For these kids, this is as big as the NCAA or the NBA finals. Anything is possible if we create the enabling environment and with the development and coaching we are having here, everything is in place to encourage a player to grow into the NBA standard. We have inaugurated the NBA Africa in Senegal – where talented kids from across the continent will be trained in an NBA environment – and we are looking forward to having some of these young players in the NBA. I believe that with the passion I see in these kids, they will come good and I will be glad to have them play in the NBA in five, 10 or 20 years.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]