NBA bringing professional basketball league to Africa with help from Obama

The NBA on Saturday announced plans to bring a professional basketball league to Africa -- and it's gotten a presidential push.

The Basketball Africa League will be a collaboration between the NBA and FIBA – the sport’s global governing body. The initial plan is for the 12-team league to start in January 2020.

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“As we've been talking about this concept over the last several months, there's been a tremendous reception from many of our NBA team owners ... and in addition, several of the partners of the NBA have expressed a strong desire to work with us in Africa,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

Qualification tournaments to determine who will take part in the league will be held later this year. Teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia are expected to be taking part. No African nation will have more than two teams in the league.

Former President Barack Obama is among those who are expected to have direct involvement with the league’s plan to grow the game throughout the continent. Silver said the talks between the NBA and Obama are ongoing. The former president spoke on video during the announcement.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during the NBA All-Star festivities, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C. The 68th All-Star game will be played Sunday.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during the NBA All-Star festivities, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C. The 68th All-Star game will be played Sunday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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“I hope you know through sport, that if you put in effort, you will be rewarded,” he said. “I hope you learn through sport what it means to play as a team, and even if you are the best player, your job is not just to show off but your job is to make your teammates better.”

The NBA, which has an office in South Africa, has held three games in Africa since 2015 – all of them selling out.

Some of the league’s all-time great players have come from Africa. Hall of Fame centers Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo were born on the continent. Olajuwon was born in Nigeria while Mutombo hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Luol Deng are among the active players who are from the continent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.