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NBA invests in Africa with new 'billion-dollar' business

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-01 09:40
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Taking a cue from its business success in China, the National Basketball Association has created NBA Africa, with former stars Dikembe Mutombo, Junior Bridgeman, Joakim Noah, Grant Hill and Luol Deng core investors in the venture.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimates the enterprise value for NBA Africa is worth around $1 billion, while Victor Williams, NBA Africa CEO, believes basketball will become a "main footprint" on the continent over the next decade.

"In order to reach that milestone, we've developed a comprehensive growth plan that will greatly accelerate the development of Africa's basketball ecosystem, deepen our fan engagement efforts, advance social responsibility and drive economic growth," Williams said on the weekend.

"The future of Africa is bright, and we will continue to use our game to shine a spotlight on Africa's capacity to be a global leader."

Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum will serve on the NBA Africa board of directors. African investors include Nigeria's Babatunde Folawiyo, chairman and CEO of Yinka Folawiyo Group, and Helios Fairfax Partners Corporation, led by Nigerian Tope Lawani, co-founder and managing partner of Helios Investment Partners.

NBA Africa aims to establish content, secure media rights and build corporate sponsorships-very similar to the NBA's relationship with China.

Lawani recalled watching the 1994 NBA Finals on a small television in Abuja when Nigeria-born Hakeem Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to the first of two straight championships.

"I was proud to be Nigerian, proud to be African," Lawani told

Silver pointed out that 55 current NBA players are from Africa or have one or both parents who are African.

Mutombo, a native of Congo who accompanied then-commissioner David Stern on a goodwill tour of the continent in 1993, has been very invested in hospitals in Congo and met former South African president Nelson Mandela on that trip.

"Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world, and Africa youth just need the opportunity and the support to achieve great things," said the eight-time NBA All-Star and longtime Houston teammate of China's Yao Ming.

"The new NBA Africa is that transformative next step to do just that: giving more African youth the same opportunity that I had many years ago."

In another international development, virtually all of Canada's top NBA players, excluding those who are injured, have accepted invitations to attend training camp to prepare for the country's last chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Canada will play host to a six-team qualifier in Victoria, British Columbia, that starts on June 29. It's one of four qualifiers involving a total of 24 nations, all vying for the last four spots in the men's tournament in Tokyo.

A total of 21 players accepted camp invites-including 14 of the 16 top Canadian-born scorers in the NBA this season. The only exceptions are Denver's Jamal Murray and Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, both of whom saw their seasons end early because of injury.

Among those attending Team Canada's training camp are Golden State's Andrew Wiggins, New York's RJ Barrett, Memphis' Dillon Brooks, Oklahoma City's Luguentz Dort, Houston's Kelly Olynyk, New Orleans' Nickeil Walker-Alexander, and Indiana's Oshae Brissett.

The camp opens on June 16 in Tampa, Florida, at the Toronto Raptors' temporary facility. Raptors coach Nick Nurse will serve as head coach.

All of the qualifiers take place from June 29 to July 4, while the NBA playoffs are happening-meaning top international players such as Greece's Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Serbia's Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets might not be available to help their home nations qualify for Tokyo.

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