South Africa, for now at least, will have no presence in the NBA’s inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL), which is set to tip-off in March next year.
The league’s president, Amadou Gallo Fall, announced six host cities for the 12-team competition, while the Rwandan capital Kigali will host the competition’s final.
Although South Africa has hosted the NBA’s Africa Game on three occasions, the country initially won’t feature in the league, despite having facilities and infrastructure that outstrip those found in the cities that have been chosen.
The lack of a proper basketball culture in this country saw it left off the initial list of cities for a tournament that has the backing of the National Basketball Association, the American sports federation that is using its marketing and financial might to grow its presence in Africa.
“These are big pan-African cities and basketball has a long-standing tradition in those countries,” Gallo Fall said in Dakar, Senegal on Tuesday night, where the announcement of the six host cities was made.
Cairo (Egypt), Dakar (Senegal), Lagos (Nigeria), Luanda (Angola), Rabat (Morocco) and either Monastir or Tunis (Tunisia) will play host to the league phase of the competition, with the national winners of tournaments in those countries providing the initial six participating teams.
“They are some of the top basketball playing countries in terms of participation and in terms of performance of their national teams,” Gallo Fall added.
The remaining six teams will qualify through a competition that will be hosted by the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) in September. The NBA will lend its support to that tournament.
In March 2020, the six cities will host the regular BAL season that will feature 12 teams divided into two conferences, with each conference playing in three cities. The regular season will see the 12 teams play five games each for a total of 30 games, with the top three teams in each conference qualifying for the play-offs.
Thereafter those play-off teams - to be known as the “Super 6” - will play in a round-robin format to determine the four teams that will advance to the BAL Final Four and BAL Final - which will be straight knockout games - at the impressive Kigali Arena, a brand-new 10 000-seater venue that has just been completed in the Rwandan capital.
While that venue is world class, there are concerns about some of the other arenas in host cities, which are not up to standard.
“We have assessed facilities, some need improvement and we are making those improvements. But I’m confident that by tip-off next year the arenas will be ready to go,” said Gallo Fall.
South Africa’s absence from the initial phase of the competition will capture the attention of basketball’s authorities in this country.
Basketball SA came in for severe criticism earlier this year when the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) released its report into the state of sport in South Africa.
The EPG described Basketball SA’s submission for its annual report as “largely incomplete” and “of limited usefulness,” and requested that the South Africa Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee step in to provide some clarity about the direction the sport is taking.