JOHANNESBURG – The story of how Thabo Sefolosha missed the NBA’s first match between Team Africa and Team World two years ago in Johannesburg is that of tragedy but he triumphed nonetheless.
Sefolosha’s inclusion to Team Africa would have been a no-brainer. With a South African father and relatives in Mamelodi, he would have been playing a match at “home” for the first time in his professional career. But an act of police brutality robbed him of that opportunity.
It probably also denied his team, then Atlanta Hawks, of a title run as they were cruising in the Eastern Conference. After a stabbing in a club that Sefolosha and his teammates were at in April of 2015, the police shut it down.
As they evacuated it, five of them violently forced Sefolosha on the ground. He broke his leg and ended his season. The police claimed that he didn’t co-operate despite video evidence showing otherwise. They arrested him for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice.
An incensed Sefolosha rejected a number of plea deals, and took on the system. He won and the city of New York paid him $4-million (just over R53-million) to settle the lawsuit.
“I learned from the whole situation and everything that happened,” Sefolosha said at Ticketpro Dome on Friday, the venue of this Saturday's match. “But I think that it showed who I am more than it shaping me”
Sefolosha continued, “I decided to take on the system because it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t do anything. For them to label me and put charges on me, it wasn’t right. You hear about it (police brutality) a lot. Things have to change. But there is a lot of improvement to be made.”
Sefolosha’s case caught global attention due to his status and wide-ranging police brutality in the USA that has resulted in a number of black people being killed and the perpetrators in uniform walking free. The 33-year-old’s upbringing spurred him to fight.
As a son of a black man, Patrick from Pretoria, and a white lady, Cristine from Switzerland, he would have been born a crime in 1984 had his parents not fled apartheid South Africa.
Sefolosha is glad that the whole ordeal is in the past as he has a lot to look forward to. He has a new home in the form of Utah Jazz. But on Saturday afternoon he will finally lead Team Africa against Team World at “home”.
“This is special,” he said. “I am looking forward to being in front of a South African crowd and playing a great game. It’s going to be great fun.”