By Krystina Lucido
Amadou Fall picked a good time to bring the NBA across the Atlantic.
A little over a month ago the NBA expanded their NBA International offices to Johannesburg, South Africa, taking Fall, former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, away from changing players' lives to changing a nation's worth of lives.
NBA Africa was designed to bring a permanent presence to the continent of Africa. Fall had been conducting Basketball Without Borders programs for seven years before the camps only became beneficial while the players were there. Fall felt a lasting presence would help basketball to develop more efficiently.
"We want to make sure we impact participation in the game," Fall said. "We want to make the game accessible and then, from a development standpoint, we cannot only talk about players learning to get better on the court, you also have to train coaches to be teachers of the game. We want to work with all of the local basketball stakeholders, organizations, sports ministries and collaborate to see what we can do to bring what we think we do best in terms of expertise and basketball development."
One of the first steps was using the World Cup to create a "basketball meets football" event, merging the two in an attempt to increase basketball's exposure to the youth of Africa. Children from Nelson Mandela's Children's Foundation met at the new Discovery Soccer Park at the Wanderers Club in Illovo, Johannesburg, June 19, to train and learn new soccer and basketball skills from leading superstars in the two sports. Patrick Vieira (formerly French national team, Manchester City), Lucas Radebe (formerly South African national team), Luc Mbah a Moute (NBA's Milwaukee Bucks) and Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns) were all on hand to assist the kids and play with them.
"To be here for the World Cup and at the same time get to know some kids from this area and understand a little bit more about the culture here, it's really special," Nash said.
Nash was born in Johannesburg, where his father played professional soccer. He grew up on soccer and is excited about the opportunity to return to his roots to assist the kids in South Africa while growing the game of basketball.
"It's a perfect opportunity for me to come back and to have some connection to the country I was born in," Nash said. "I would love to further it and I know I'm working with the NBA to be a part of making an impact here in Johannesburg and throughout Africa. It's an exciting time and I'm just happy I can have that little connection to it to South Africa."
Soccer in Africa, as with any other European country, is embedded in the culture and the way of life. The game is highly accessible and easy to pick up and play. The success of basketball in Africa could hinge on whether or not the sport can achieve these same qualities and make it easy for those kids who have nothing.
"I think the game of basketball could be huge in Africa," Nash said. "What's important is that it's an easy game to play. If you put up a hoop, a kid can play with his ball. It's very similar to soccer. … If the NBA comes to Africa and builds a bunch of hoops and gives kids balls, they'll be out there playing. It's a simple and accessible game, and once that happens, more and more kids play, you get more and more coaching. Obviously the game will just drive and flourish."
The children for the Mandela Foundation started on the newly-installed soccer pitch while the players gave a short speech before splitting them up into four teams for two short matchups. After the scrimmages, Nash and the other players showed off their skills before making the short walk to the basketball courts on Discovery's campus.
The kids shot around before the pro athletes came up to do a shoot-out. The Suns' seven-time NBA All-Star point guard better watch his back as Vieira beat him handedly in the shoot-out.
But it was all in good fun and showing the kids good competition and new skills to carry with them in their practices. It may take a little while, but basketball in South Africa could grow if given the right tools.
"What we hope to achieve is very simple -- grow basketball," Fall said. "Hopefully assess and see how we can develop infrastructure. … We want to have an impact not just in South Africa but across the country."
Posted June 23, 2010