There’s been a lot of movement and change as of late when it comes to basketball in Africa. FIBA recently reformulated the Club Champions Cup in a bid to revitalize club competition. Now the NBA plans to start a new African basketball league in collaboration with FIBA.
Basketball League Africa (BLA)
The news was first announced in an NBA press release in mid-February. The report outlined plans to launch the Basketball League Africa (BLA) pro league, with 12 clubs from around the continent set to compete at the highest level.
Teams will include six national champions from Angola, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia, who will automatically qualify. There will also be clubs from countries such as Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa. The remaining six teams will compete in international qualifiers this year to earn their place, with no more than two teams per country allowed to gain entry.
The BLA is set to commence in January 2020. It will be the NBA’s first professional league outside of North America. The US basketball league is by far the most popular in the world. Defending champions Golden State Warriors are leading in the NBA predictions this year. According to Forbes, the NBA league brought in $8 billion in revenue last season.
So far, the main league in Africa is the African Basketball League (ABL), where we have been following the Defenders journey into the Elite 8. The BLA is set to provide an even higher calibre of competition, as well as international exposure.
Millions In Funding
The NBA, along with FIBA, plan to dedicate resources and financial support to boost the basketball economy in Africa. This will include training for players, coaches, and referees, as well as physical infrastructure to support the growing popularity and esteem of the game.
Amadou Gallo Fall, Vice President and Managing Director for NBA Africa, recently spoke to Reuters regarding the new basketball league. He didn’t confirm how much the NBA would invest, but he did say that the amount would be “millions”. He also confirmed that the league will be “fully operated by the NBA”.
Laying the Foundations
Though this is, without question, a huge move for the NBA, it is clear that they have been laying the foundations for basketball in Africa for quite some time. The NBA established their first office in Africa in Johannesburg in 2010. The first NBA Africa game was held in 2015, an exhibition match at Ellis Park Arena between Team Africa, comprised of NBA players who were born in, or had parents from Africa, and Team World, comprised of NBA players from the rest of the world.
The NBA has also opened its elite basketball academy in Senegal, offering professional level coaching to aspiring players, along with the Basketball Without Borders Africa program, again aimed at facilitating the growth of talent.
The profile of Africans playing at the top level is growing. Cameroon’s Joel Embiid just signed a 5-year contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, worth nearly $150 million, and is now considered one of the most valuable basketball players in the world. There were a total of 13 African born players on the NBA roster for the start of the 2017/18 season, and this number rises sharply to 40 out of 108 professional athletes if those with African parents are included.
Audience interest is also increasing. Live events are selling out, including NBA games held in South Africa in both 2017 and 2018, and viewership is on the rise. In a bid to appeal to this popularity, the NBA recently launched a streaming channel for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The YouTube channel allows viewers to watch two games per week for free and will continue for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs and finals. There will also be regularly uploaded content to celebrate the impact of African players in the NBA.
It’s clear that the NBA has already made a big push to accommodate the basketball boom in Africa. The new BLA league will begin next year, with elite teams competing in front of possibly the largest audiences ever.