JOHANNESBURG: National Basketball Association (NBA) stars played in Africa for the first time om Saturday (Sunday in Manila) with a stirring final-quarter comeback giving Team World a 101-97 victory over Team Africa in Johannesburg.
Team Africa included NBA players from Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Senegal and South Sudan and they made the running against opposition consisting largely of American-born stars.
The African selection led 30-17 after the first quarter, 56-38 at half-time and 77-62 after three quarters of the 40-minute exhibition match.
But a string of three-point field goals early in the final quarter from Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Memphis Grizzlies’ Jeff Green changed the course of the game.
There were surprise, brief second-quarter appearances for Team Africa by retired NBA stars Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria and Dikembe Mutombo from Congo.
Olajuwon, who in 1984 became the first African drafted into the NBA when he joined the Houston Rockets, raised one of the loudest roars with a two-pointer before retiring breathless.
“This is an incredible day – a dream come true,” said the 52-year-old Olajuwon.
“I am so proud to be part of this historic, wonderful occasion,” he added.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who attended the match, said “it was only a matter of time before a pre-season game was staged in Africa.”
A push to extend the sport beyond the United States has seen NBA activity in Europe, Brazil and China.
“This was a fun game and we found a way to win,” said Team World captain Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It is difficult to be pioneers at anything these days and we have achieved that status by playing in Africa for the first time,” he added.
South Sudan-born Team Africa captain Luol Deng from the Miami Heat said, “Everyone was playing for real and it was a pity we lost after leading for so long.”
“Team World were a little quicker than us in an amazing game. The future for basketball in Africa is bright,” he added/
The aim of the game at the Ellis Park Arena was to “sell” the sport to a country where football, rugby and cricket dominate.
All 4,000 tickets were sold and a mainly young, multiracial, multi-gender and smartly dressed crowd turned up to cheer their sporting idols.
But the task facing the NBA in South Africa is daunting judged by the sell-out 94,000 crowd that watched a pre-season football friendly between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in Soweto at the same time.
South Africa has a national basketball league and NBA matches are screened live – but a time difference means they are shown after midnight across Africa.
“This match was an experiment,” said Silver, whose guests included South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula, strikingly dressed in all white.
“Among the reasons I am here is to investigate new facilities. We would want a larger, modern arena before staging a pre-season or regular season NBA match,” he added.