One time superstars such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, and Manute Bol proved that Africans could thrive in North America’s elite professional league. Now the likes of Giannis Antekuompo and Joel Embiid are among the world’s most celebrated athletes.
Sensing the need for greater player development efforts in Africa, the NBA, in partnership with FIBA, announced the formation of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game weekend in February 2019.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver presented the league alongside BAL President Amadou Gallo Fall. NBA legends Mutombo, Michael Jordan, and Alonzo Mourning attended the announcement in Charlotte, North Carolina.
More than a year after its founding, the BAL is gearing up to begin its inaugural campaign. Regular season games were scheduled to tip-off on March 13, but play is currently on pause until a later date.
An evolution of the FIBA Africa Basketball League
The BAL replaces the FIBA Africa Basketball League as the continent’s new premier league.
The former league, which has provided a home for Africa’s top tier players since 1972, was instrumental in growing basketball’s domestic popularity. More than 80 clubs participated in the FIBA Africa Basketball League during the organization’s 48-season history.
Primeiro de Agosto, a club based in Luanda, Angola, was the most successful team and claimed the league title on nine different occasions.
The league’s structure and schedule
Twelve clubs from as many African nations will compete in the BAL’s first regular season. Six clubs – US Monastir (Tunisia), Zamalek (Egypt), Petro de Luanda (Angola), AS Salé (Morocco), Douanes (Senegal), and Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria) – directly qualified for the league by winning national championships in 2019.
The remaining six clubs – GS Pétroliers (Algeria), FAP (Cameroon), AS Police (Mali), Patriots (Rwanda), GNBC (Madagascar), and Ferroviário de Maputo (Mozambique) -earned berths from a 32-team BAL qualifying tournament held between October and December 2019.
The BAL is setting forth governance that ensures African players dominate each club roster. Clubs are permitted to carry 12 players each. Eight of the players must be local to the country where the club is based while four players can be foreign. Two of those foreign players must be from other African countries.
The regular season schedule features the league divided into two conferences with each team playing five games. The winningest three clubs from each conference advance to a round-robin tournament called the Super 6. The top four clubs from the Super 6 then compete in a Final Four single-elimination tournament to determine the BAL champion.
Final Four contests will be held at Kigali Arena in Kigali, Rwanda. Regular season games are scheduled in Cairo, Dakar, Lagos, Luanda, Rabat, Monastir, and Tunis.
The BAL promises to draw international interest
Some big brands are going all-in on the BAL with sponsorship deals.
Nike and Jordan Brand hold exclusive rights as the BAL’s on-court apparel provider. Nike will outfit six clubs while the other six will receive uniforms by Jordan. Pepsi is also a BAL sponsor.
These relationships will bring worldwide attention to the league since the sponsors are well-recognized international companies
The BAL is also likely to strike a chord with basketball fans around the globe.
For example, fans in the US will keep a keen eye on the league because it serves as a pipeline for future NBA talent coming out of Africa. Americans who take a personal stake in the outcome of NBA games through fantasy sports or bet on basketball for their favorite teams will be especially interested.
The NBA deepens its commitment in Africa
The BAL is the latest development of the NBA’s expanding footprint in Africa, and the first time the North American tier is officially involved in a continental league.
The NBA has staged three games in Africa since 2015 – two in Johannesburg and one in Pretoria – all of which were sellouts. The organization is also funding 87 basketball learn-and-play facilities in seven African nations and an academy in Senegal.
Fans can find more information at the league’s official website, or by following @theBAL on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
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