This spring, history was made when the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) tipped off in Rwanda. Showcasing the spectrum of talent from the continent, a dozen teams — six national champions and six winners of FIBA-qualifying tournaments — represented Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia. BAL rosters featured local players and a handful of foreign prospects who hoped to attract the eyes of scouts in the international spotlight.

Although the BAL is the NBA’s first high-profile partnership on African soil, and its first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America, it has been over 35 years since the continent’s professional players began playing stateside. Since 1985, the impact of African athletes has been profound and has helped grow the game globally. They have won Most Valuable Player awards, Defensive Player of the Year awards and Most Improved Player awards, as well as been named to All-Star teams, won championships and been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The prominence of players with African backgrounds is still growing; in the 2020 draft, NBA teams selected eight players of Nigerian heritage alone.

Marking the BAL’s first-ever partnership, Nike and Jordan Brand were the exclusive outfitter of all 12 teams. This year, the Patriots Basketball Club from Rwanda, the Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club from Madagascar, the Groupement Sportif des Pétroliers Basketball Club from Algeria, the Association Sportive Police Basketball Club from Mali and the Forces Armées et Police Basketball Club from Cameroon wore Jordan Brand jerseys. 

Within the Jordan Brand family, a number of players have African roots, including Bismack Biyombo, Victor Oladipo, Bam Adebayo, Rui Hachimura and Satou Sabally. For Bismack, like many others, it’s crucial to uplift the next generation of athletes from his homeland. “The BAL is important as it increases the visibility of the sport,” says Bismack. “Some countries that didn’t have a professional basketball team do now. It gives a lot more people the chance to watch basketball live, or on TV, and to cheer for their local team. Basketball is also an avenue that gives people a better life; it teaches you a great deal of values that you can carry with you forever. Africa is growing fast, and I am excited to see the next generations get a chance to play from a young age.”

Jordan Brand family member and 10-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony, who’s also been an advocate for NBA Africa, shares a similar sentiment: “These talented players were already there, they’ve always been there,” he says. “The BAL is transformative in finally providing a platform for these elite players from across the continent, to showcase their talent on the court and inspire the next generation to play the game.”

In the BAL Championship game, Egypt’s Zamalek knocked off Tunisia’s US Monastir by the score of 76-63. After the game, BAL President Amadou Gallo Fall presented the victors with a gold-coated trophy shaped like a baobab, known as “the tree of life” for providing sustenance and shelter. If the league grows as expected, it will supply similar vitality for the development of basketball in Africa. Jordan Brand looks forward to supporting the BAL in the years to come.

Ceremonial tip-off between Patriots Basketball Club and River Hoopers Basketball Club with BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall

The BAL finals game at Kigali Arena

Sedar Sagamba #5 of the Patriots Basketball Club wearing a Jordan Brand jersey

Ibrahima Cherif Haidara #5 of the AS Police wearing the Air Jordan 34 “Taco Jay”

Zamalek teammates celebrate winning the BAL championship

Learn more about the Basketball Africa League at thebal.com.