When the NBA announced on February 16, 2019 at the NBA All Star 2019 African Luncheon that it was partnering with the governing body of basketball in Africa, FIBA Africa, to launch a professional league within the continent, it took the entire continent by surprise. However, this partnership did not happen overnight, Amadou Gallo Fall describes it as a culmination of efforts.
"We did not just get up and say `Hey, we want to start a professional league`. Obviously, it`s a combination of all the work the NBA has been doing on the continent for many decades. I think, the Basketball Africa League (BAL) was the next logical step"
Amadou Fall, the BAL President shared this in his interview with former professional basketball player and television host Youcef Ouldyassia on the first episode of BAL`s flagship programme - BAL Hang Time.
"In 2018,during the last NBA Africa Game, I remember the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the late FIBA General Secretary Patrick Baumann, Hamane Niang who is now FIBA President, Dr Alphonse Bile and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum were all there and really, the conversation started. The discussion was about if we had enough momentum. Did we have enough fans, enough interest etc."
Once those questions were answered, the next step was to come up with a plan to make it work which included partnering with FIBA Africa. For Amadou Fall, it was not difficult getting FIBA on board based on the partnership that has been cultivated over time and the common goal of developing basketball.
"Because we have a common objective. The goal is to grow the game of basketball on a global basis. So, it`s not even a matter of joining forces, there`s a natural alignment. And the collaboration did not just started with the BAL. Obviously, did is where it really manifest itself in terms of how we`ve fully integrated, but all the years we`ve been running Basketball Without Borders since 2003, it`s been in partnership with FIBA. All the developmental programmes like the Jr NBA league that we ran across the continent, we partnered with local Federations"
Although the NBA have numerous initiatives outside of the United States including the NBA Global Games, the NBA Academy, and the Basketball Without Borders, the BAL will be the Association`s first organised league outside the US. When asked how it felt being a part of such history, Amadou Fall smiled.
"It`s a beautiful story"
"We are extremely proud and excited about the opportunity because we have tremendous amount of talent. It`s a young continent, we have a largely young population interested in sports and there is a huge passion for basketball across the continent and we have a growing number of players coming from the continent to play in our league. I think all the stars aligned, there is a hunger for it, there`s an appetite for this. And I think it`s a beautiful story from where we started and with this being the culmination of it all"
He also added that having witnessed the rise in interest and passion for the game across the continent, the increasing talent being identified and nurtured, and the gap in the professional scene, it became necessary to take basketball to the next level.
"It was a logical step and it happened organically. When we came into Africa, we focused on the basics and the fundamentals - grow the sport and make it accessible, get more people to participant. And then we started organizing the talents with the NBA Jr League and the NBA Academy in Africa. We are identifying the talents and nurturing these talents. We brought 3 NBA Africa Games with sold out crowd. So that made us confident that the region has an appetite and there`s a natural affinity for our sport"
Prior to the global COVID19 outbreak which led to the postponement of the league`s tip-off, the twelve participating teams were scheduled to play their leagues across 6 different African cities including Lagos, Cairo, Luanda, Dakar, Rabat, and Tunis, with the playoffs and the finals in Kigali. For Amadou Fall, it will give cities an opportunity to showcase their rich cultural heritage.
"It is more than basketball. Aside of the very competition and the product on the court, the way we are going to organize our competition, through these weekend tournaments or caravan, every country, every site we play will have the opportunity to showcase all the cultural facets that attract people to Africa from music to fashion to art to culinary art. These games or these weekends are going to be destinations. I think from that standpoint, it`s not just basketball. It`s a lifestyle we are going to unleash across the continent showcasing what Africa has to offer."
As with the rest of the world, NBA and FIBA Africa are monitoring the global health crisis and will announce when the BAL will be played as soon as it is safe to do so. But we can all rest, assured that whenever that is, the world will witness the best of Africa. And as for Amadou Fall, he isn`t worried about the future either.
"We are excited for the opportunity to see the best talents from Africa looking at the BAL as their primary destination first. The idea is to create a very competitive product that players will be proud and excited about to come and play in. And I am 100% sure that in a very short period of time, it`s going to happen."