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15 African players in the 2023/24 NBA

AFRICA'S representation in the NBA continues to rise, both in terms of numbers of players and earning power. 15 African players and 35 players with African roots will participate in the new season

THE 2023/24 NBA season will feature 15 basketball players hailing from Africa, once again underscoring the continent’s prominent presence in the global basketball arena.

This season’s rosters, recently unveiled by the NBA, reveal Nigeria leading the way, with a total of five of its citizens making the cut. In addition, Cameroon boasts three players, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has two. Angola, Mali, Senegal, South Sudan, and Sudan are each represented by a single player.

Moreover, the press statement accompanying the announcement of international players featured in the upcoming season emphasizes a broader connection to Africa.

The statement shows there are “more than 35 players with at least one parent from an African country,” reinforcing the extensive ties between the league and the continent.

One of the most notable figures in this season’s international lineup is Cameroonian Joel Embiid, who achieved the remarkable distinction of being the first Most Valuable Player (MVP) of African descent since Nigerian basketball legend Hakeem Olajuwon earned the title in 1994.

The 2023/24 NBA season boasts a record-breaking 125 international players from 40 countries and territories spanning six continents. This marks the third consecutive season with opening-night rosters featuring a minimum of 120 international players, and the tenth straight season with at least 100 international players.

Anticipation for the season is heightened by pre-season projections, which suggest that African players are poised for standout performances and may even contend for the coveted MVP award.

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Among the noteworthy players, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, who has ties to Nigeria, has garnered immense attention.

Alongside Nikola Jokic, he was the overwhelming choice in the NBA GM Survey as the players that general managers would most prefer to start a franchise with.

Antetokounmpo is lauded as the best centre and passer and possesses the finest basketball IQ, and this year’s survey revealed that both players received more than 90% of the votes in their respective positions. This was the first time in 11 years that any player or players have received such an overwhelming consensus in any position.

Antetokounmpo is a celebrated figure in the NBA, particularly for securing consecutive MVP awards in 2019 and 2020. He recently renewed his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks for 3 years, according to ESPN. The US$186 million deal will see him earn US$63 million per season – among the highest for NBA players of African descent.

In addition to Antetokounmpo, Victor Wembanyama, who is affiliated with the DRC and plays for the San Antonio Spurs and France, also stands out.

He was voted the best draft prospect of the last two decades, earning a resounding 90% of the votes. General managers were asked to identify the rookie they believed would emerge as the best player in the next five years.

World-class talent from Africa has been a driving force behind the establishment of the Basketball Africa League, a collaborative effort between FIBA and the NBA.

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This initiative, along with other Africa-focused programs, not only nurtures the sport locally but also paves the way for more players of African descent to find their place in top-notch clubs worldwide.

These initiatives have been steadily gaining traction in Africa, and the recent signing of an agreement between Kenya and the NBA signifies a significant step forward. This partnership will result in the official opening of an NBA office in Nairobi, marking the NBA’s fourth facility in Africa, following the establishment of offices in Johannesburg, Dakar, and Lagos.

With Kenya’s neighbour Rwanda being the primary destination for major NBA-hosted events on the continent, the NBA deal opens opportunities for similar events in Kenya.

By BONFACE ORUCHO, BIRD STORY AGENCY

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