Former BBL players Prince Ibeh and Ryan Richards will be in action when the inaugural Basketball Africa League tips off on Sunday.

Backed by the NBA and FIBA, it will feature 12 teams at the central venue at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda, featuring 154 players from 24 countries across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the U.S.

Great Britain centre Richards, who left Surrey mid-season for an initial opportunity in Tunisia, has signed for Angolan club Petro de Luanda.

Ibeh departed Plymouth just before the BBL Playoffs, citing a family bereavement in the U.S. But he has quickly returned to action for Rwanda’s Patriots BBC.

Each side will have up to 13 players (12 active and one inactive), at least nine of whom are citizens in their respective team’s home country and up to four of whom are from other countries, with no more than two players per team from outside of Africa.

It is a bold move by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who has sanctioned an investment of millions of dollars in the competition in tandem with his partners at FIBA.

The grand mission is to expose African talent and accelerate basketball’s growth in a region that has produced star players past and present, including Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam and Hakeem Olajuwon.

With a launch put back from 2020 due to Covid, the initial strategy will be to keep player salaries at a modest level rather than blowing the bank.

It is an attempt, Silver acknowledged, to learn some lessons from the rise and fall of the NFL Europe League which burned through vast losses before it was finally shuttered in 2007.

BAL, inevitably, will remain expensive to launch. But it cannot become a bottomless money pit, Silver underlined.

“I think it is our job, though, to figure out a way that we can operate Basketball Africa League in a way that makes it economically sustainable,” he told MVP last year.

“Because just as we saw with NFL Europe, we’re fortunate. While because we’re privately-owned, we don’t have to fixate on quarter-to-quarter profitability.

“And so we may have more of an opportunity to build over time than some other businesses might.

“But just as we saw with the NFL, that when any organization reaches a point where it feels like if you’re just putting in more and more money, and there’s no prospect of turning it into something sustainable, it won’t continue to exist.

“So I think it’s always that balance that we’re trying to strike. How can we find a way to operate the league to invest in those communities, to build businesses around it, but also the same time build over time at a time a sustainable operation?”

BAL will build on the NBA’s existing Africa office in Johannesburg, an NBA Academy Africa that opened in Senegal in 2017, and the roots put down by the long-standing Basketball Without Borders programmes.

Interest from national government, local partners and city arenas, NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said, was positive. The extra opportunities created, he expected, will be a game-changer – and not solely on the basketball court.

“I think it’s huge,” Tatum said. “I think the potential is there for the sport, not to just be viewed as competition in sport, but for it to be used as a fuel and the driver of economic growth, of development, of getting more people young people active.

“Those things we think can have a tremendous impact on the continent. And as a result of our work over there are conversations over there. We’ve seen that with new arena developments in Dhaka, in Kigali, in Johannesburg.

“Where government and the private sector are seeing and have actually come to visit some of our arenas, they’ve talked to our teams to say, ‘Okay, how do you when you build this arena, what do you do around it?’

“You build housing, you build commercial, retail, you build development, which has created jobs and opportunities for the people in those cities in those countries.

“And so for us to be able to go in there and launch this league and create aspirations for kids who now have a local league, that they can aspire to play in.

“For clubs to have incentives now to participate in this league run by the NBA together with FIBA, I think it is going to create the right incentives for, for players, for the private sector, for the public sector, to continue to invest in basketball.”


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