JOHANNESBURG – The NBA stars from all over the world involved in this exhibition match put on a show for the packed crowd as Team World beat Team Africa 108-97 on Saturday.
South Africans were offered a rare privilege of seeing some of their favourite NBA players live, to make up for the ungodly hours they have to contend with to catch the action on TV.
Jaylen Brown’s gravity-defying dunk for Team World was the highlight of the match, entertaining even the home crowd who were pushing Team Africa to make up the deficit in the fourth quarter and finally win this encounter on home soil.
Thabo Sefolosha, with South African roots, received the loudest applause when he entered the court and when he kept the scoreboard ticking for Team Africa.
Sefolosha had looked forward to playing in this match in front of his “home” crowd, especially after he was denied the opportunity to be here in 2015 – missing out through a broken leg after he was manhandled by police outside a club in New York City.
He made up for that absence by leading Team Africa in an evening that treated the fans with a competitive match and an entertaining spectacle.
While Sefolosha had the crowd eating out of the palms of his hands for sentimental reasons, Victor Oladipo impressed them with his skills and was even named the MVP.
The 25-year-old son of a Nigerian mother and a father from Sierra Leone went into halftime having scored the most points (19) for Team Africa.
Most of those points were scored with the flamboyance that characterises the Indiana Pacers point guard’s game.
While Team Africa were skilful, Team World were methodical in their approach. Both gave as much as they received, which saw the fourth quarter start with scores tied at 77-all.
Team Africa finished strongly, but the opposition were just too good and continued their unbeaten run in this match. In 2015, Team World won 101-97 at the Ellis Park Arena.
Victor Oladipo is RED HOT! Team World leads, 101-97, with a minute left pic.twitter.com/sBBpH1PNQ2
This game was a culmination of a week-long of activities that included the Basketball Without Borders programme, that saw over 80 children across the continent being mentored by NBA players and coaches.
A graduate of that programme, who was identified in the 2011 edition in Johannesburg – Joel Embiid – was part of Team Africa, but wasn’t involved in the match.
As much as the game of basketball is growing in the country, it is still far behind football, rugby and cricket.
Despite legends like Luol Deng and Dirk Nowitzki visiting the SOS Children’s Village in Ennerdale on Friday, the children there mobbed French football star Thierry Henry and not the NBA players who were part of the programme that brought Henry here.
The children turned the basketball court into a football field, playing one-touch with Henry, Embiid and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
That act showed how much the sport needs to do to grow in the country.
Airing the exhibition match on the national broadcaster SABC 1 and community TV station Soweto TV was a nice touch in taking the game to a larger audience.