PRETORIA – The third NBA Africa Game, to be staged at the Sun Arena in Pretoria on Saturday, has been billed an exhibition clash to grow the appetite for the game on the continent, but the likes of All-Star Joel Embiid prove there is much more at stake.
The fixture pits Team Africa, made up of NBA players with roots on the continent, against Team World, consisting mostly of players from the United States.
It is an off-season initiative from the National Basketball Association (NBA) that will provide glitz and glamour on the court, but also gives 78 boys and girls from 29 countries on the continent the opportunity to train with top NBA players.
It was at one of the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) development camps in 2011 that Cameroonian Embiid’s talents were spotted and he hopes his story will be an inspiration to others.
“I was here in 2011 and got drafted in 2014, and I will hope that everybody sees my example and will want to do the same thing,” Embiid, who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, told reporters.
“I’ve come back every year because I feel when I was in their position, it made me want to be around NBA players and these guys are the same.
“There are a few of us (from Africa) in the NBA so we feel like, there are guys here that have a chance, so we just want to come back here and play and try to grow the game of basketball.
“I’m trying to do my job in the NBA but at the same time, I’m trying to give back. So just being here and supporting these kids is great.”
But the seven-foot centre says there will be no party atmosphere against Team World and that once he steps onto the court the competitive instinct takes over.
“I’m very serious, every time I step on the court I want to win. I’m competitive, everybody knows that it doesn’t matter who I’m playing against, five-year-old, 30-year-old, grown-ass men, I want to win,” he said.
Seven different nationalities are represented in Team Africa, including South Sudan-born forward Luol Deng, who is seeking an exit from the Los Angeles Lakers, and French-born wing Evan Fournier, who is of Algerian descent and has led the Orlando Magic in scoring in the last two seasons.
Team World have won both previous encounters, 101-97 in 2015 and 108-97 in 2017, and their roster includes impressive Atlanta Hawks rookie John Collins and new LA Lakers signing JaVale McGee, who won the NBA championship in the last two years with Golden State Warriors.