JOHANNESBURG: The TicketPro Dome arena in an upscale Johannesburg suburb became a mini Madison Square Garden Saturday as American basketball staged an exhibition match to “sell” the sport.
Basketball ranks among many low-profile sports in South Africa, where football, rugby and cricket dominate the airwaves and sports pages, and take a huge chunk of sponsorship cash.
It was the second exhibition game involving National Basketball Association (NBA) stars in Johannesburg within three years and Team World overcame Team Africa 108-97 before a 10,000 crowd.
Team World defeated Team Africa 101-97 at another, smaller Johannesburg venue two years ago.
The good-natured spectators did lack some of the intensity associated with regular-season matches in the United States, and the same could be said of the match.
But it was not about the result or who scored the most points. This was all about giving Africa a sample of NBA glitz and glamour.
And a gravity-defying dunk from Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics for Team World will surely have won a few converts.
A day before the match, the training at the same venue had the appearance of a holiday camp.
Between two dunks and a couple of attempts at three points, Dallas Mavericks back and Team World captain Dirk Nowitzki was having fun with compatriot Dennis Schroeder of the Hawks, who lined up with Team Africa thanks to his Gambian origins.
“It’s incredible that basketball is growing in Africa. There are more and more African players in the NBA, but also in the universities,” says Nowitzki, who travelled to Johannesburg with his wife and three children.
“The continent is huge, opportunities and talent are growing and it is good to be able to help the development of basketball in Africa,” he told AFP.
Among the activities of the visiting teams ahead of the match were coaching sessions, meeting fans and assisting in the building of houses in poor neighborhoods.
A dozen players went to a disadvantaged children’s center in Ennerdale, a predominantly mixed-race township south of Johannesburg, and spent nearly two hours with them.