CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The NBA and FIBA plan to launch a professional basketball league in Africa called the Basketball Africa League featuring 12 teams from the continent.
The league is scheduled for launch in January of 2020 and will be the NBA’s first collaboration to run a pro sports league outside of North America, and former President Barack Obama, an avid basketball fan, is expected to have a hands-on role.
“The Basketball Africa League is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a statement. “Combined with our other programs on the continent, we are committed to using basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa.”
A qualifying event in Africa will determine the 12-team league. No more than two teams from one country can qualify. While the NBA is invested in China and India, it also believes there remains undiscovered talented players in Africa.
Silver, FIBA secretary-general Andreas Zagklis, FIBA Africa President Hamane Niang, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, Toronto Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum; NBA vice president and managing director for Africa Amadou Gallo Fall and Raptors president Masai Ujiri were part of the group that made the announcement at a luncheon Saturday in Charlotte.
Obama appeared on a video at the announcement and said, “Through sport, if you put in effort, you will be rewarded.”
Obama’s role has yet to be determined, and Silver said Obama wants an active role.
“Mark Tatum and I had the pleasure of spending several hours over the past few months with President Obama, and we all know how much work he has been doing in Africa and what a fan of the sport of basketball he is,” Silver said. “He has said ‘I want to be directly involved with these activities in Africa.’ He understands the economic opportunities in Africa. He’s personally a huge fan of the game, and in fact dedicated a court there recently with Masai. So while we’re still talking to him in terms of exactly what his role is going to be, we know he’s going to be directly involved in our activities there as well.”
Jordan Brand and Pepsi are among the NBA’s partners who want to be involved with the nascent league, Silver said.
Contributing: The Associated Press