BBC NEWS AT BBC.CO.UK/NEWS
“Africa … We are here! Game on!” were the words used by Amadou Gallo Fall of Senegal to launch the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) in May 2021. Fall, the league’s president, was on hand for the ceremonial tip-off of the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA)-backed competition at Kigali Arena in Rwanda.
The honor of scoring the first points in BAL went to former NBA player Ben Uzoh, a Nigerian-American.
“It will change lives. This is going to create opportunities for the people across the continent to feed their families,” Uzoh told BBC Sport Africa. “It is the NBA of Africa, and so for a kid that is growing up here on the continent, this is something they can call theirs and sets up the ballers of the future. That in itself is very powerful. It is transforming.”
The ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic means that all the games are being played at the 10,000-seat Kigali Arena instead of the initial plan of using seven host cities around the continent. Despite the pandemic, 1,500 spectators and invited dignitaries were allowed into the vibrant, colorful arena bedecked in Rwanda’s national colors of blue, green and yellow.
Those lucky enough to be inside the arena gave their backing to the “home” team with cheers and chants of “Let’s go Patriots, Let’s go” and “Defense! Defense! Defense!”
There also was the added excitement of Grammy award-winning U.S. rapper J. Cole making his debut as a player for the Patriots and also getting on the score sheet.
Fans were not disappointed as the Patriots rallied from trailing in the first quarter to win the game, much to the delight of the team’s head coach, Alan Major.
“It is very humble to be a part of this history-making event, and I am really happy for our guys,” he said. “Secondly, to come out and win this game, the first game in this historic event.”