JOHANNESBURG - Joel Embiid is a straight talker, so when he says Saturday’s NBA Africa Game is no mere exhibition game, you believe him.
“I’m very serious, everytime I step on the court I want to win. I’m competitive, everybody knows that it doesn’t matter who I’m playing against, five year old, thirty year old, grown-ass men, I want to win,” said the 24-year-old Cameroonian.
Embiid is arguably the biggest star among an array of NBA luminaries who will take the floor at the Sun Arena in Tshwane this Saturday for the third edition of the NBA Africa Game which pits a team of players born or with direct family ties to Africa, against a World Team, made up of stars from the United States and Europe.
The game is the culmination of an important week for Embiid and the NBA which is also running the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) development camp, which brings together 78 boys and girls from 29 African countries to train with some of the NBA’s best players and coaches. Just seven years ago, Embiid was also part of the BWB camp in Midrand and so understandably he is keen to impart his knowledge to this year’s participants.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Embiid about the BWB participants. “I was here in 2011 and got drafted in 2014, and I will hope that everybody sees my example and will want to do the same thing. I’ve come back every year because I feel when I was in their position, it made me want to be around NBA players and these guys are the same. I just wanted to be here around them, hang out with them, answer any questions they have.”
The NBA has certainly valued the impact that African players have had on the league and the NBA Africa Game is a direct result of the hard work former players such as Hakeem Olajuwon (born in Nigeria) and Dikembe Mutombo (born in the DRC) have done in raising the profile of the sport on the continent.
“There’s a few of us (from Africa) in the NBA so we feel like, there’s guys here that have a chance (to make it in the NBA) so we just want to come back here and play and try to grow the game of basketball,” Embiid added. “I’m trying to do my job in the NBA but at the same time I’m trying to give back. So just being here and supporting these kids and going back home (to Cameroon) and supporting them is great.”
The NBA certainly isn’t paying mere lip service to the event. Besides the players who will take to the floor on Saturday, they are running a series of events for the remainder of the week, including assisting the ‘Habitat for Humanity’ project in Ennerdale, while some of it’s most prominent officials - including commissioner Adam Silver - will participate in seminars around Johanesburg.
Besides Mutombo, arguably the most prominent former player who will be at the camp and then Saturday’s game is former LA Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time highest points scorer in the NBA. “I was involved in the initial efforts to start Basketball Without Borders in the 70s when I was still playing, so I’ve seen it grow,” said Abdul-Jabbar, widely regarded as one of the best players the game has known. “These steps don’t surprise me. The game has steadily increased its appeal.”
Tickets for Saturday’s NBA Africa Game are available at computicket.com. These range in price from R265 to R2555.