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Volume 23 No. 18
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NBA could form separate unit for business in Africa

In 2017 the league opened the NBA Academy Africa to develop players. It has partnered with FIBA to launch the Basketball Africa League in 2020.
Photo: nbae / getty images
In 2017 the league opened the NBA Academy Africa to develop players. It has partnered with FIBA to launch the Basketball Africa League in 2020.
Photo: nbae / getty images
In 2017 the league opened the NBA Academy Africa to develop players. It has partnered with FIBA to launch the Basketball Africa League in 2020.
Photo: nbae / getty images

The NBA sees enough promise in Africa that it is considering creating a separate entity to develop its business there, much like the league has done in China.

Owners at the Sept. 20-21 NBA board of governors meeting privately discussed the possibility of forming an NBA Africa entity modeled after NBA China, which was created in 2008 with five partners. NBA China has grown into a $5 billion business for the league and its partners now include Chinese giants Alibaba and Tencent. This year Tencent signed an extension of its deal through the 2024-25 season for a reported $1.5 billion.

No decisions have been made and sources stressed the early nature of the talks around the creation of an African business, but it’s clear the NBA sees potential in the emerging African basketball market.

“It is very early, but it makes total sense,” said a source familiar with the discussions. “It is an area of great development.”

The NBA is no stranger to Africa and has been moving from a mostly grassroots presence to a more commercial approach. But whether the league can attract sufficient commercial support to scale the business remains to be seen.

There is no doubt about the league’s branding ambitions in Africa.

For years, the league has run its offseason “Basketball Without Borders” player development program throughout the continent. The NBA opened its African headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2010 and has held three sold-out Africa Games, in Johannesburg in 2015 and 2017 and in Pretoria in 2018. Those events supported charities including UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.

In 2017, the league opened the NBA Academy Africa, and player development programming is now being implemented in 14 African countries.

This year, the NBA announced it would create the Basketball Africa League in partnership with FIBA. The league is set for its inaugural season in March 2020 with 12 teams from across Africa. The BAL has signed Nike and Jordan Brand as the exclusive outfitter of the new professional league led by President Amadou Gallo Fall.

The league also sees opportunities for key executives and players to further bolster the effort. Nigerian-born Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, has been deeply involved in growing the game in Africa with his “Giants of Africa” player development programs.

According to the NBA, opening-night rosters for the 2018-19 season featured 13 African-born players, and there are more than 80 current and former NBA players from Africa or with direct family ties to the continent, including Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.