The NBA Africa game deserves a proper pre-season game rather than a forgettable scrimmage

NBAE / Getty Images
Photo: NBAE / Getty Images

Saturday’s NBA Africa game showcased the best that the continent has to offer as Johannesburg, South Africa welcomed the league for the second time after the inaugural visit in 2015.

And like the 2015 game, this year’s adaptation provided the passionate fans with fun and most importantly, a chance to see their African heroes, even though the first quarter was rusty and as a loyal hoops fan: barely watchable.

The spectacle though picked up as it progressed and the two teams were tied at 77-77 heading into the final period but admittedly it was painful to watch. And by the end, when the contest was over, Team World secured a straightforward 108-97 win over hosts Team Africa, who remain winless in the two encounters.

Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown led a balanced World attack with 15 points, supported by 14 from both Kristaps Porzingis and Andre Drummond. The Africans were paced by a game-high 28 from Indiana Pacers’ new recruit Victor Oladipo.

It is no question that Johannesburg and indeed all of Africa loves the NBA and the continent has numerous stars such as Luol Deng, Serge Ibaka, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Oladipo with all of whom proud of their heritage and representing Africa for the NBA during the two trips.

The big letdown though is that the game, arguably staged at the beginning of NBA pre-season is nothing really but a glorified scrimmage with teams picked rather hurriedly as the players look to dust off any cobwebs that they might have had once their respective seasons ended, earlier in the year.

Indiana Pacers Victor Oladipo, playing for Team Africa won MVP of the NBA Africa Game. Photo: NBA Africa (Twitter)

You could picture it as the pre-season All-Star Game that you don’t really need. It was okay the first time, two years ago as cameo appearances from African NBA legends Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajawon gave the supporters some joy but to have this “showcase” again was a major letdown. The fans on the continent deserve better.

The knowledgeable supporters are fully aware of the talent they have at their disposal. Saturday’s scrimmage featured 12 Team Africa players, representing ten African countries including Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Tunisia and South Africa with all of them playing for several NBA sides. So Commissioner Adam Silver, who favours London, Beijing, Shanghai and Mexico City for its actual games, both in exhibition and regular season could look into Johannesburg as a possible location for a more serious encounter.

The 15th edition of Basketball without Borders Africa that are staged in the build-up to the game remains meaningful and worthwhile for the people in Africa in the long-run as players spent a lot of time training with and imparting their knowledge of the game to the campers with those very players also spending valuable time giving back to the communities in need by working with Habitat for Humanity South Africa as well as SOS Children’s Village.

However, the game itself, supposedly being the main event of the charitable week is then played, and erased from memory, more or less straight away.

For the NBA to give back to Africa, maybe the superb Basketball without Borders program can be the starter to an eventful main course between two teams that feature African players. Maybe not in regular season play due to the long haul flight from the USA to South Africa in general, especially if you are on the west coast, where you are looking at a minimum 19 hours in the air. But a pre-season encounter would whet the appetite for fans not only in South Africa but for NBA supporters in general.

Photo: NBAE/ Getty Iamges