Today is game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. On August 1, the NBA will play its first game in Africa. The venue will be the Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is significant given, as NBA.com reminded us last, at least “35 players from Africa have played in the NBA since hall of famer and two-time NBA Champion Hakeem Olajuwon was drafted in 1984.” Though the NBA has hosted events on the continent since 1993—coaching camps, outreach programs (NBA Cares has built 38 places to live, learn or play on the continent) — this is the first time they host an event of this magnitude on the continent.
The game on August 1 is an exhibition and will feature a Team Africa vs. Team World. “Team Africa will be comprised of players from Africa and second generation African players, and Team World will be comprised of players from the rest of the world.” Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers will captain Team World and Luol Deng is designated captain of Team Africa. The proceeds will go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Africa, SOS Children’s Villages Association of South Africa and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Amadou Fall, the NBA vice-president and managing director for Africa has been based in Johannesburg, South Africa since May 2010. Prior to that, he spent 12 years with the Dallas Mavericks working as director of player personnel and vice-president of international affairs. Some of you may also have recognized Fall from the film “Elevate.” I caught up with Fall at his office in Johannesburg to discuss basketball on the continent and a bunch of other things: his favorite films and Reggae music.
What’s the most unexpected thing you have ever done?
I managed a Reggae band called Midnite.
How did that come about?
They asked me (laughs). I was probably their number one fan. This was in Washington D.C just after I graduated. I realized very quickly that the music industry wasn’t for me. I lasted one gig (laughs). But you should check them out. They became legends.
I was reading an article about Luol Deng and his journey to the NBA. You are also mentioned in that story. When you look at the NBA now, what is different in terms of African presence in the NBA, either on the court or behind the scenes?
I think there has been a steady growth. The history between the NBA and Africa dates way back from Hakeem, No. 1 overall pick in 1984
To Manute Bol
All these guys playing their role really in paving the way for a generation of young very talented super committed players who already are following in their footprints. Obviously Luol, who has made two All-Star appearances as you mentioned is one of them.
When I was in Dallas, I remember the year he was in the draft, we were considering him. It came down to him and another player, we ended up taking the other player and I remember Luol calling me (smiling) and saying, “hey man you guys are going to regret it.” And till this day he always has unbelievable games against the Mavs. In fact, after the trade his best game with Miami was in Dallas, and he put up big numbers (smiles).
Seeing Serge Ibaka
Seeing Luc Mbah a Moute
There is a lot of pride.
One of the things that touched me at the All-Star Game was the homage Victor Oladipo paid to Hakeem Olajuwon. How did that make you feel?
It meant a great deal. Hakeem is a great ambassador for our game around the world. He has influenced a whole generation of players and has had a big impact on the game.
In January, when the NBA hosted a game in London at O2 Arena, Milwaukee Bucks vs. The New York Knicks, Hakeem was there. I remember, at the Reception at the US Ambassador’s in London, seeing Giannis Antetokounmpo talking to Hakeem, getting advice from him. Giannis is unbelievably talented, Victor obviously also has a very bright future. Both those guys have very deep roots in Nigeria. The conversation is always about how they can go back and continue to inspire the next generation.
What was the greatest part of working in Dallas?
Working with great people. I got to Dallas in ’98 and I was very fortunate to be part of the journey that brought the team to elite status. I was given an opportunity and being recognized for having an eye for talent and really being given a platform to participate in building a team. So gradually we brought in some great players to join Dirk.
And then seeing a team develop, with a great coach in Donnie Nelson, the leadership of Mark Cuban after he bought the team, and of course Avery Johnson.
What was your favorite Mavs team?
The 2003 team. Those guys really had swag. Our toughest guys were 6’2. Talented, confident, (we) lost in the playoffs because Dirk got hurt.
What was your best collegiate game?
In college I hit a buzzer beater. (Laughs) When I see the guys hitting buzzer beaters and running around, it’s good to know I have had that feeling. That was probably my first time attempting a three pointer.
What are some of your favorite basketball films?
He Got Game. Because of Ray Allen. I was impressed. You don’t realize that these guys are multi-talented. He is known as a three-point specialist and here he is in a leading role. I have a lot of respect for people who act.
Let’s talk about Basketball Without Borders. What makes you proud about that program?
Our league has a long standing commitment to leadership in social responsibility. Basketball Without Borders is our flagship basketball development program and community outreach. There have been eight players from BWB Africa who made it into the League. I think the program is something we look forward to every year and this year it is even more special. This is going to be the 13th year in Africa and we are going to close it out with a historic game in Johannesburg. The first NBA Game on the continent. It will be a show for the ages.