The NBA Eyes Africa

By Stephen Hayes, President and CEO, The Corporate Council on Africa

The National Basketball Association, with its globally-known stars from past and present, has for some time now, been working hard to make itself a truly global organization, perhaps someday to rival soccer in world-wide popularity. Thus far, it has done so in two nations...the United States and China.  In reality, simply because of its sheer size, there are almost certainly far more NBA fans in China than in America. One can argue that basketball may also be the most popular sport in the Baltics, which have produced NBA and Olympic stars by the dozens. This does not mean that its popularity isn't growing in other nations. The league is popular in Latin America and in many parts of Europe, but it is hard to imagine that it will surpass the love of 'futbol' in Brazil or Argentina, two countries that the NBA is very popular, anytime soon.  

The NBA sees the enormous marketing potential for its brand worldwide and has offices in Europe, Asia, Latin America and has recently opened offices in Africa, basing itself first in Johannesburg, and focusing on key markets in Nigeria, Angola, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana and South Sudan, although the civil war there has almost certainly put into hiatus any hopes for cultivating the sport there.  The purpose of the expansion into Africa is not to find new basketball talent, though there are many Africans playing in the NBA now after breakthroughs two or three decades ago from players like Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), Dikembe Mutombo (DR Congo) and Manute Bol (then Sudan, though he would now be considered South Sudanese if he were alive today). The NBA's first director for Africa, Amadou Fall, a Senegalese national and former director of scouting for the Dallas Mavericks, views his mission as getting thousands, and eventually millions of African youth engaged in basketball as a means of social cohesion and focus.  He also understands the desire by the National Basketball Association to increase its range on the continent.  He wants basketball to be a global force and productive force for the millions of Africa's young. According to statistics from the African Union, the average age of three out of four young people in Africa will be 20 years old by 2020.

For these different reasons the NBA became the first sports-focused organization to join The Corporate Council on Africa, the leading business organization solely focused on Africa in the United States. Approximately 85 percent of American private sector investment in Africa is manifested by the Corporate Council on Africa's 180 corporate members.  If American-style basketball is to grow in Africa, it will need the support of those businesses working in Africa, many of which are members of The Corporate Council on Africa.

The NBA held its first full game in Africa on August 1st, in Johannesburg.  Many of the NBA’s leading players, especially those from Africa, participated in the game which was covered continent-wide by SuperSport.  It was a first step but it was also an important step to becoming more widely known in every country in Africa. It has been long in the making and CCA worked with the NBA in its past two All-Star games to give more visibility to Africa within the hierarchy of the NBA offices, and with some of its corporate members.  Some of its members will be among the sponsors of the first game in Africa as well.  There is still a long way to go, but imagine if this partnership and other such forms of cooperation catches fire on the continent.  Imagine, too, what it would mean to playgrounds everywhere.

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