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How the NBA and sports betting are fueling basketball's profile in Africa

by Staff Writer
22 Dec 2019 at 16:54hrs | Views
Basketball is a historically American sport in origin and popularity. Invented in December 1891 by Dr. James Naismith of Springfield, Connecticut, an estimated 26 million play basketball in the US, making it the nation's most competed team sport by participant headcount.

Basketball took root quickly in countries outside the US. The sport was introduced in Africa in the 1960s to an enthusiastic base of supporters and players.

In recent years, the National Basketball Association (NBA), North America's premier professional league, has kicked the globalization of hoops into overdrive, especially in the African and Asian markets.

Basketball wagering on professional competitions is also part of the equation. Africa is rapidly developing sports betting market where punters are taking advantage of online and mobile wagering platforms.



The Hakeem Olajuwon Effect
If anyone is responsible for opening the door to the modern era of basketball popularity in Africa, it's Hakeem Olajuwon. The 7 foot center from Laos, Nigeria ushered into the NBA a generation of foreign-born players and African fans.

Olajuwon began his athletic career as a soccer goalkeeper. He eventually transitioned to basketball and excelled at the sport.
Olajuwon was not highly recruited in the US, but scored an invitation to the University of Houston to work out with the Cougars men's team. Faring well enough, he immigrated to the US and joined the Cougars.

Olajuwon skills on the court developed quickly during his university stint. By 1984, he was known as "The Dream" for his ability to effortlessly slam dunk and was considered the top amateur player in the nation. The Houston Rockets selected Olajuwon with the first pick in the 1984 NBA Draft ahead of future stars Michael Jordan, Charles Barkely, and John Stockton.

The Dream played 17 seasons in the NBA between 1984 and 2002. He won the league MVP award in 1994 and led the Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. Also a 13-time All-Star, Olajuwon was inducted into the NBA Hall-of-Fame in 2008 as one of the greatest centers ever.

NBA Exhibition Games
Since 2015, the NBA has staged three exhibition games in South Africa to promote the sport while showcasing top talent.

Dubbed by the league as the "NBA Africa Game", this series of competitions features Team World, a squad of international NBA players, facing off against Team Africa, a side comprised of players from African nations or sons of African parents.

The 2015 and 2017 NBA Africa Games were played in Johannesburg. The exhibition moved to Pretoria for its latest installment in 2018.  

NBA Betting
Africa is a fast-growing, big money sports betting market. An estimated 50-percent of adults in South Africa routinely wager on sports. The combined athletic betting of South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria totaled almost $40 billion in 2018.

It's also one where punters take a special interest in international athletic events. As the NBA's profile grows on the continent, so does the number of bets wagered on the sport.
 
Increasing betting opportunities in Africa are mirrored in the US, where new wagering markets are opening in states across the nation. Both examples are elevating the popularity of pro basketball on a global scale. Today, African basketball fans in the US enjoy dozens of different wagers on NBA games including moneylines, point spreads, and futures on the league finals.

Basketball Africa League
The Basketball Africa League (BAL) will supplant FIBA Africa Basketball League as the continent's premier flight when the BAL's inaugural season kicks off in March 2020.

BAL is a joint venture between the NBA and FIBA, basketball's global governing organization. The league marks the first time the NBA has been directly involved in league operations outside of North America. Corporate sponsors include Nike's Jordan brand and Pepsi.

Twelve teams will soon comprise the BAL. Teams are currently competing in a Champions League-style tournament, a format borrowed from European soccer, to determine league placement.

The host cities of Cairo, Dakar, Lagos, Luanda, Rabat, Monastir, and Tunis were announced by the BAL in July. Kigali will serve as the location for the inaugural season's championship games.
 

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