The festivities of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend included the announcement of a new professional basketball league in Africa formed in a partnership with FIBA, the sport’s international governing body.
Former President Barack Obama is expected to have a role in the league, but the specific position is unknown.
“I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts,” Obama said in a tweet following the announcement.
I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts. Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court. https://t.co/lghcLaUN9a
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 16, 2019
Two of the NBA’s biggest sponsors, Pepsi and Nike’s Jordan Brand, have already expressed a desire to be a part of the Basketball Africa League, according to commissioner Adam Silver.
The 12-team league will be formed from existing teams, who will play in a qualification tournament later this year. Teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia are expected to participate. Once teams have qualified, there will be no more than two from any single nation. The league will begin play in January 2020.
BAL marks the first time the NBA has been directly involved in a league outside North America, but the league has been present in Africa for some time.
The NBA and FIBA partnered in 2001 to create Basketball Without Borders, a community outreach and basketball development program that plays host to camps for children across the continent. More recently, the association established the Jr. NBA Global Championships. Tournaments are held in the United States and internationally to determine regional champions, who then compete at the Global Championship in Orlando, Florida.
In 2015, the league began playing host to the NBA Africa Game, in which players from Africa face off against international players from other countries. Events leading up to the game include basketball instruction for kids and community service.
Currently, 13 NBA players are from Africa, including All-Star Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and newly elected NBA Players Association vice president Bismack Biyombo (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
NBA officials indicated more details regarding the new league will be announced in the coming months.
Ryan Sharp is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University.