Hamidou Diallo, of African decent, won All-Star Weekend’s AT&T Slam Dunk contest on the same day the NBA announced its new Basketball Africa League.
The global expansion of the NBA has been a hot topic during All-Star Weekend, particularly regarding the league’s relationship with Africa and the growing contingent of Africans and players of African-decent playing in the League.
Before 20-year-old Hamidou Diallo won the AT&T Slam Dunk contest at Spectrum Arena in Charlotte on NBA All-Star Saturday, becoming the first full-blooded African to win any All-Star event, the NBA and FIBA announced a plan to launch the first professional basketball league in Africa.
It was a glorious day of unprecedented accomplishments and African pride, crowned with Diallo’s Slam Dunk win.
“Yeah, definitely. If you look around the league, we have a bunch of African players, a bunch of them are producing, and a bunch of them are great players,” said Diallo, who grew up in Lefrak City, Queens killing dudes in AAU competition and on the local playgrounds. “My goal for Africa is to try to establish a platform there, and try to go back home as much as possible and do things for the community out there and show them what it’s like to be around an NBA player. I can’t wait. I’ve got a lot of things planned for Africa this summer.”
Being an advocate and spokesperson for the new Basketball Africa League (BAL), featuring 12 club teams from across the continent is one of Diallo’s missions. Also,dropping jewels and mentoring young Africans about the NBA experience in the same way that his teammate Russell Westbrook has done for him.
“Playing with Russ, from day one, it was — I was just a little bit happy, a little bit nervous to see what type of person he was, try to get along, trying to fit in and stuff. From day one, it was like a bond. The bond was there,” said Diallo, a rookie on the OKC Thunder. “That was my vet, and I was the rook. He’s taken care of me all the way up to here, and nothing has changed about him since day one. He’s been the same person. He just tries to tell me what is the tools I have to have to stay in this league and just make sure I’m working harder than anyone, because when he was my age, he was doing that, and that’s what made him the player he is today.”
The BAL will be built on the foundation of current club competitions FIBA is organizing in Africa. Scheduled to begin play in January 2020, the BAL would mark the NBA’s first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America.
The NBA has heavily invested in Africa with various programs such as Basketball Without Borders and Giants of Africa. In addition, the NBA has an office in South Africa and academy in Senegal.
The league’s dedication to not only identifying but developing top notch talent has helped raise the number of active NBA players from Africa to 13 this season. That includes Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid as well as former first-rounders Al-Farouq Aminu, Bismack Biyombo, Gorgui Dieng, Emmanuel Mudiay and Pascal Siakam.
Former President Barack Obama, an avid basketball fan, is expected to have hands-on involvement with league as well. Since 2017,Obama has helped Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, who hails from Nigeria, with the Giants of Africa youth basketball program.
There are already several professional teams across Africa, but this league will attempt to unify them into one place while providing financial support, resources and training. There will be qualifying tournaments held to determine which teams make the league with the nations of Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia likely to be represented.
“On FIBA’s behalf, it’s a huge joy to see our partnership with the NBA enter unchartered territory as we work together for the first time to maximize the potential of professional basketball in Africa,” said FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis
“This is a natural extension of what we have done through the joint initiative that is Basketball Without Borders (BWB), which helps find, develop and nurture young talented players all around the world, including in Africa,” added Zagklis.
“The Basketball Africa League will enable us to build on the solid foundation laid by FIBA Africa and relaunch the continent’s club competition to offer the ultimate platform for the very best clubs and players.”