“It's amazing creating a league in Africa,” said reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, a Greek born to Nigerian parents. “Giving opportunities to African talent and African players to go out there and showcase their talent, I knew it was going to happen.”
The teams from Algeria, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique and Rwanda earned the right to be in the league through qualifying tournaments. The teams from Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia was guaranteed a spot by winning their national leagues.
The league tips off in Dakar, Senegal, on March 13. “I think it's really important because there's a lot of special talent that the world doesn't know about,” said Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid, who hails from Cameroon. “If you look at the guys in the league who have been able to make it, there's probably somebody better than me or has the potential to be better than me in the future. So I think it's a great initiative.”
Embiid, Antetokounmpo and Toronto's Pascal Siakam — all of African descent — will be teammates on Team Giannis in Sunday's All-Star Game. Uniforms for the BAL season were also unveiled Saturday at All-Star weekend by Nike and Jordan Brand. The BAL will debut with the 12 club teams from across Africa divided into two conferences, with each conference playing in three cities. Each team will play five games in the regular season, all in-conference. The top four teams in each conference will qualify for single-elimination playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda.
“This is a historic moment as we welcome the 12 teams that will participate in our inaugural season,” BAL President Amadou Gallo Fall said. “These teams have earned the opportunity to represent their respective countries and will establish the BAL as a world-class product that entertains fans of all ages when the season tips off March 13.”
LEBRON AND VOGEL Before this season, the three best teams that Frank Vogel coached were, in order of winning percentage, the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers, the 2011-12 Pacers and the 2012-13 Pacers. They all ultimately met the same fate: a playoff loss to the Miami Heat and LeBron James.
This year, of course, James and Vogel are paired up with the Los Angeles Lakers — the team leading the Western Conference. Vogel is also coaching Team LeBron in the All-Star Game. James said Saturday he felt a bond with Vogel before they began a coach-player relationship this season.
“I already respected Frank just from a competitive standpoint, and when I was in Miami competing versus the Indiana Pacers teams you saw how they were always prepared,” James said. “They were dedicated to their game plan. They were always ready for our matchups every time we played them. The battles we had versus those teams in Indiana. Didn't need to have a level of respect because it was already there from the jump.”
As has become a tradition at All-Star weekend, James brought 23 high school students from his Akron, Ohio, hometown — his “330 Ambassadors,” he calls them, a nod to Akron’s area code — to experience a new city and volunteer as well.
The kids volunteered at a book bank Thursday, sorting and inspecting books, and selected a book to share with other children in Chicago. That’s akin to what they do at James’ I PROMISE School in Akron, helping at-risk students read.
“I was a young kid growing up in the inner city with not many resources, not much help,” James said. “So, for me to be able to be in the position I am today to be able to give back, not only to my hometown, but go all over the world and inspire people and inspire kids and inspire the youth, I think it's just as important as what I do on the basketball floor.”
BAM’S TIME The Miami Heat have two All-Stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — and had six players picked to be part of the weekend in all, with Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn selected for the Rising Stars game, plus Derrick Jones Jr. and Duncan Robinson taking part in All-Star Saturday Night.
Suffice to say, Butler’s first season in Miami is going to his liking. So, too, is his relationship with Adebayo — as evidenced by a stream of answers Butler offered at media day Saturday. He was asked which player he'd want to face if the NBA added a 1-on-1 tournament: “Bam,” Butler said. That was followed by a question about the best trash talker he’s faced: “Bam,” he offered again.
And that was followed by a question about his choice to win the fight next weekend between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. Without Adebayo as an option, Butler improvised: “Whoever Bam’s got,” he said.
TEAM USA The 44 players announced on Feb. 10 as finalists for the men’s team that USA Basketball will send to the Tokyo Olympics this summer is largely composed of NBA veterans and players with experience with the national team.
Chicago’s Zach LaVine wasn’t on the list — and perhaps doesn’t like it — but understands. “There were a lot of guys that were left off of that who were deserving, and that's their decision,” said LaVine, who was part of All-Star weekend as a 3-point contest participant for the hometown Bulls. “I think I made my case for a lot of things to be on it, but I'm not the one picking it. Am I frustrated? Am I disappointed? I wouldn't say frustrated. I think it's more just a little bit more fuel to the fire. But they have their reasons for picking their guys, and it is what it is.”
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