by Femi Adefeso

The Nile Conference jumps ball on the 19th of April at the Hassan Mostafa Indoor Arena in Cairo, Egypt. With City Oilers of Uganda, Libya’s Al Ahly LY, Bangui Sports Club of Central Africa Republic, and Egyptian champion Al Ahly set to battle for a place in the Playoffs in Kigali. 

It promises to be, yet another breathtaking sports showcase put together by Amadou Gallo Fall and his brilliant team at the Basketball Africa league office. This new African sports festival is a steady growing storm taking over the beautiful sports loving continent.

While the Basketball Africa League (BAL) has been steadily gaining momentum since its inaugural season in 2021, the recent addition of the Kalahari Conference has brought both excitement and clear evidence of the viable room for new markets and expansion for the league. 

The newly instituted conference in the BAL, hosted at the SunBet Arena in Pretoria, South Africa featured sold out opening and closing games in the 8,500-capacity arena with celebrities and entertainment stars engaging with the league courtside and off the court. 

Moroccan champions FUS Rabat, Angolan powerhouse, Petro De Luanda, new hometown basketball favorites Cape Town Tigers and Dynamos Basketball club from Burundi – which put our sour taste in a sweet pudding – treated basketball fans on the continent to exhilarating games that came down to the wire, showing just how far African basketball has come from the NBA Africa game hosted at the same Arena in 2018.

The Kalahari Conference also provided a platform for young and upcoming players to shine, as we saw a record number of debutants and the continuation of the BAL ELEVATE program. The stage continues to get bigger for the further elevation of African basketball on the world stage.

However, the Kalahari Conference had its fair share of the good, the bad and not so pretty.

The Good…

The introduction of the Kalahari Conference, itself, was a big win for Season 4. South Africa has been the home of the NBA since 2010 and the resident of oldest NBA office on the continent. Having played host to the NBA Africa game in Johannesburg (2015, 2017) and Pretoria in (2018), and multiple grassroot programs. The NBA fans in South Africa have long been waiting for a taste of the Basketball Africa League.

Another great addition was the BAL ADVANCE program, the partnership program between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the BAL that aims to support the holistic development of BAL players and teams based on their specific needs, goals, projects, and interests. The capacity building initiatives were extended to the journalists as well with the league’s its first ever BAL Media workshop in South Africa facilitated by Marc J. Spears, multi-award-winning Senior NBA writer for Andscape.

The BAL Daily show host by Silalei Shani was another brilliant add-on to the content served by the BAL media team. The former Kenyan Women’s Basketball team Captain made everyone not just glued to their screens but made the next episode of the show worth waiting for. Silalei’s opening episode taking us round the SunBet Arena and the beautiful interviews mashed up with game recaps was the best content available on the internet during the games.

With sold out tickets, record sales recorded, influx and contribution of African sports personalities and particularly South African Entertainers gracing Live BAL games courtside and participating in promoting events outside, the Conference was what musicians will call “a banger”. 

The collaboration with Afrofuture added a missing piece to the puzzle for the BAL in Season 4. The fans were having the best of both worlds their passion and energy in the arena was palpable, the electric atmosphere could be felt by fans watching on screens from all corners of the continent. 

The Bad…

While everything was coming together off the court, the teams brought their A-game on court, showcasing high-level skills and athleticism. However, the journey did not come without its challenges. The press statement from Amadou Gallo Fall about the match forfeiture of Dynamos Basketball’s game against FUS Rabat due to their non-compliance with the league rules on uniform requirements came as a huge shock. 

The Dynamos gave us a game to watch against the Cape Town Tigers on opening night. Missing out of the rest of the season for non-basketball reasons was a huge blow to the fans who were already blown away by the stellar performance of Nigeria’s Israel Otobo & Dhieu Deng. This challenge brought to the fore, ones again, the socio-political complexities of business in Africa. 

I strongly hope and believe the enforcement of the rules carried out BAL front office is a testament to a strong structure and system that will ensure the growth of the league and basketball on the continent.

The not-so Pretty…

The disappointing run of the Cape Town Tigers, the ‘model team’ who managed only a consolatory one win in their final match of the season to finish third in the group. Samkele Cele who averaged 20.5 per game in the 3 games kept everyone on their seats. Sadly, the brilliant South African fans now must wait for the ranking games to see if Tigers can get one of the two playoff tickets available. If they fail to do so, the fans will have to adopt a new team and the BAL Playoffs will miss one of its top scorers this season, Cele who finished as leading scorer in the Kalahari Conference.

Overall, the Kalahari Conference of the Basketball Africa League was a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the not so pretty. While it has showcased the immense potential of African basketball and the passion of its players and fans, it has also highlighted the areas of huge potentials. As the league continues to grow and evolve, it will be important for stakeholders to work towards making the BAL a premier destination for basketball in Africa and beyond. 

The Nile Conference holds from the 19th - 27th April 2024. All games will be streamed live on the BAL’s YouTube channel and


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