The NBA will invest millions of dollars in Basketball Africa League, its first professional league outside North America, and will be active in its operation.
The NBA, in partnership with the International Basketball Federation, is launching the league in January 2020 with 12 teams from across the continent.
“This league will be fully operated by the NBA,” Amadou Gallo Fall, the NBA’s vice president for Africa, said. “Our expertise and best practices will be on display.”
The NBA generated $8 billion in revenue in 2018, according to Forbes magazine, and interest in Africa has grown alongside the profile of Africans playing in the world’s top basketball league.
Cameroon’s Joel Embiid, a 25-year-old center for the Philadelphia 76ers, has emerged as a top player in the NBA, signing a five-year contract with the team worth nearly $150 million in 2017.
The NBA established an Africa office in 2010. It held its first NBA Africa game in 2015. Games in 2017 and 2018 were played in front of sold-out crowds in South Africa.
Basketball Africa League will involve six national champions from Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. The remaining six teams will be selected through international qualifiers in 2019.
As the NBA courts African audiences, African players have been conquering the NBA. There were 13 African-born players on the rosters of NBA teams at the opening of the 2018/19 season, out of the 108 international players. That rises to about 40 if players with African parents are included, Fall said.
“It tremendously impacts the growth in popularity of the NBA,” he said.
The NBA has livestreamed two free games a week on YouTube since March 2019 to build a larger fan base among viewers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The league opened an elite basketball academy in Senegal in 2017 that, along with its Basketball Without Borders Africa program, has showcased African talent hoping to play for NBA teams or U.S. colleges.