JOHANNESBURG - Somewhere in between the appreciation for the NBA legends, some flashy dunks and dribbles, a performance by Cassper Nyovest, and an inflatable mascot that went flat, what was supposed to be an exhibition game turned into something akin to a real one.
The third edition of the NBA Africa Game was once more a success and the quality of the play certainly made the hefty ticket prices worthwhile for the more than 8000 fans, which included Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, who packed the Sun Arena in Tshwane on Saturday.
“It was physical from the start,” said the event’s most high profile star, Joel Embiid. “We had the mentality we wanted to win. The play-offs is more intense definitely, but as far as regular season games go that felt quite similar. That’s what I like.”
The 2.13m, 113kg centre may like those types of affairs, but the physicality certainly caught some of the other participants off-guard. “Yeah, I was a little surprised by the intensity,” said Team World point guard Khris Middleton.
Ultimately Team World claimed a third consecutive victory, 96-92, in the event, leaving Embiid miffed, but everyone from Kolisi, TV star Pearl Thusi, comedian Loyiso Gola and legendary former players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dikembe Mutombo, with smiles on their faces and a life-time of memories.
“I loved it, I want to come back; it was great doing Basketball without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, playing here. The passion the fans have for the game. I’m looking forward to coming back here,” said Harrison Barnes, one of Team World’s top performers on Saturday.
"Onto the next!" - Masai Ujiri, President of the @Raptors. #BWBAfrica and the #NBAAfricaGame may be over in 2018 but this is just another step in the growth of basketball in Africa🌍🏀 pic.twitter.com/Z31XqhRbPn
There is certainly scope for the event to grow and all the participants - who volunteered their time to come to South Africa during the NBA’s off-season - said they would tell teammates at their clubs to come and experience the week.
For NBA boss, Adam Silver it was further proof that his efforts in ensuring an exhibition event was held in Africa was totally justified. Silver said there was a good chance the game’s biggest star could yet make an appearance at some point in the future at a NBA Africa Game.
“Both Amadou (Gallo Fall, NBA managing director for Africa) and I have spoken directly to LeBron James and he has stated that he would very much like to come to Africa and be part of the game," said the NBA Commissioner. “I will say on his behalf that he has an extraordinarily complicated schedule, even in the off-season, and he is someone who for the last eight years has played in the NBA finals.
"So his season has gone from September to late June, so he has a very short break. During those summers he also often plays for the national team, Olympic Games, things like that. I know it's high on his list of priorities. I don't want to put undue pressure on him, but I'm sure that at some point he will make the trip."
James will certainly appreciate the competitive nature of the tie, which was further summed up by Embiid. When asked how he felt about his own performance - which included a game high 24 points - the big Cameroonian responded: “ Shitty. I sucked, I should have done more to win the game.”