Didier Mbenga (two-time NBA champion, third from left) and Amadou Gallo Fall (NBA Vice President) at the NBA Africa Game 2017 announcement in Johannesburg on Thursday. Photo: Barry Aldworth/eXpect LIFE

JOHANNESBURG – They do things big in the NBA, where players who stand 2m tall and who wear size 16 shoes are considered no more than “average” height.

And an event like few others is about to hit South Africa again as the giant stars of the National Basketball Association (NBA) are about to tower down over Joburg for the second NBA Africa Game at the Ticketpro Dome on August 5.

The first NBA Africa Game in 2015 was a resounding success, with the highlight the appearance on the court of African NBA legends, the DRC’s Dikembe Mutombo, and Nigeria’s Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, the first African to play in the NBA in 1984, when as a 2.13m centre, he joined the Houston Rockets.

These two players were largely responsible for Africa’s rich roots in the NBA and for the popularity of the game on the continent.

Since Olajuwon’s league debut, there have been more than 70 current or former players of African origin who have played in the NBA.

For South Africans, the major highlight of the 2017 NBA Africa Game will be the appearance of Thabo Sefolosha, dubbed “basketball’s Trevor Noah” because of his Swiss roots.

He was born in Switzerland to artist mom Christine and his musician father, Patrick, hails from Mamelodi.

The game will see Sefolosha co-captain Team Africa with South Sudan’s Luol Deng from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Former 2007 NBA Most Valuable Player and serial All Star Dirk Nowitzki from the Dallas Mavericks will co-captain Team World with US star Kemba Walker from the Charlotte Hornets.

Sefolosha will arrive in his native country in high spirits, having this week signed a two-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth a reported $10.2 million.

“Having South African roots, it’s a dream come true to return to South Africa to play in an NBA game.

“There are so many talented African players in the league, and it will be an honour to lead them on August 5 in Joburg,” said Sefolosha this week when the full team rosters were announced.

The man who has behind the establishment of the NBA’s presence in Africa and who has overseen the growth of the game on the continent is Senegal’s Amadou Gallo Fall.

The former centre for the University of the District of Columbia spent 12 years with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA as the team’s director of player personnel and VP of international affairs.

“We had big ambitions when we opened the NBA Africa office in Joburg in May 2010 and essentially built a business from scratch. We knew we were building on a long history of African involvement with the NBA,” said Fall, the NBA’s VP and MD for Africa, at his Sandton offices this week.

“There’s never been a question about African interest in the game. Basketball is the number two sport in the world and the NBA is a top brand, for me the best and most professional sports league in the world in terms of our approach in making sure our brand exudes flair and the “cool factor” young people all over the world are so attracted to.

“What we needed to do though was have a presence and boots on the ground to build the game of basketball on the African continent, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Fall said the NBA was looking to build on the enormous success of the inaugural 2015 NBA Africa Game.

This year, African stars such as Serge Ibaka from the Toronto Raptors and Bismack Biyombo from the Orlando Magic will go up against Team World All Stars including DeMarcus Cousins from the New Orleans Pelicans and superstar-in-the-making Latvian Kristaps Porzingis from the New York Knicks.

“We have a bigger venue, a bigger presence from the rest of the African continent and we’ve expanded our African footprint by playing Junior NBA Finals in places like Morocco and the Ivory Coast.

“Our league’s players are wonderful ambassadors and represent the brand very well. They’re young, smart, educated people who have the ability to make a real impact on communities,” said Fall.

A sell-out crowd of 10 000 is expected at the Dome.

The NBA will again host its Basketball Without Borders camp ahead of the game, and also host activities in Phokeng in the North West, where its successful development camps have garnered industry awards.

Joburgers who aren’t able to score a prized ticket to the NBA Africa Game can still get a feel of the NBA brand at a fan zone in Rosebank, which will feature a lot of entertainment, and player appearances.


Saturday Star

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