Basketball Without Borders Africa is a four-day event that occurs annually in Johannesburg, South Africa, bringing together some of the continent’s top players. PPI-SA fellows Ben Constable and Bryan Franklin were fortunate enough to help out with the program earlier this month.
If you read this blog, you already have an appreciation for sport’s natural tendency to bring people together. However, few sporting events demonstrate this to the degree of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Program. If you asked Chris Clunie, former PeacePlayer and current Senior Coordinator for the NBA’s International Basketball Operations, if Basketball Without Boarders Africa ticked all three boxes for Peace Players International (Bridging Divides, Developing Leaders, Changing Perceptions), the answer would be a confident “yes.”
And how could it not? Rarely can you gaze onto a court containing 60 of the best African players from 20 nations all while talking to a Zambian Coach about how the influx of South Sudanese refugees to Australia will change the youth basketball landscape. Then walk onto a court to be dunked on by a seven-footer from Senegal, save a little face by high-fiving Dikembe Mutombo on your way off the court, and then quiz Clarisse Machanguana on her foundation in Mozambique.
The concentration of basketball wealth at Basketball Without Borders is staggering and motivating, but what stands out to people who work in areas of social development, who understand that growing the game is a continuous unrelenting process, is how epic, yet fleeting the event is.
There is definitely an awareness within the NBA as to what needs to be done to grow the game in regions like South Africa. Coach Lionel Hollins summarized it pretty well in an interview regarding BWB’s work:
There are seed programs in Senegal, there are seed programs in South Africa that African NBA players and African scouts have implemented, and now you have to teach coaches in order to have them teach the players. That’s where the talent gets stronger and the interest gets higher. But the players need to start playing younger. Most African players are not playing until they’re 15, 16, 17 years old, whereas American players are starting to play at 8, 9, 10 years old, which gives them quite an advantage. When you don’t have a lot of facilities, there’s not a lot of opportunities for formal leagues to be played.
There seems to be a disconnect between the resources the NBA provides and the most efficient way to develop the game in young basketball nations. BWB does a phenomenal job in creating a temporary spectacle once a year, providing an ambitious goal for young African players to work toward, a Mecca for people in the African basketball scene to network. Yet, what is still lacking is incentive for coaches to work at the most junior levels, professional development for coaches at the most junior levels, and consistently accessible facilities for athletes. As we look ahead, we know that this is what is needed to continue growing the game we all love across the African continent.