FOR the majority of basketball players in Africa, their only hope of creating a career out of basketball is to seek a change of scenery and travel overseas. For others, basketball can be used to better the current situation by seizing opportunities to better schools that might have not been available before.
Football was known as the clear-cut favourite as Senegal’s No.1 sport, but the growing presence of basketball could not be ignored. Though hard to find the facilities, and at a time when courts were not readily available.
One youngster had just received a basketball from his older brother – that moment would go on to change the landscape of basketball in Africa.
The game of basketball found Amadou Gallo Fall when he was 17 years old. He would be seen during a pickup game by a Peace Corps volunteer Kevin Lineberger, who noticed his talent and offered him a scholarship offer from the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). A historically black college in the USA with an NCAA Division II basketball program. “When a team takes a chance on a young 6’8” man from Senegal it would be foolish not to make use of this once in a lifetime opportunity”.
Fall did just that, becoming the team’s second-leading scorer in 1990. He, however, suffered a hand injury that removed a chance at playing in the much sought after National Basketball Association (NBA).
Fall graduated magna cum laude from UDC, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology after being inspired by the program Doctors Without Borders whilst in high school. The UDC inducted Fall into its Athletics Hall of Fame on February 19, 2019, in recognition of his athletic and academic achievements. This honour bestowed to him not only for his achievements at UDC, but also for building a solid foundation for basketball in Africa over the past decade. He has been instrumental in developing the reach of the NBA throughout Africa.
“Soon I realised that it was not necessarily the practice of medicine I was interested in, but more how Doctors Without Borders was using medicine to impact communities. I thought I could do the same quicker, and probably more effectively by using my passion which is empowering young kids through basketball,” says Fall.
Fall would go on to become the NBA Africa managing director and has been at centre of basketball development in Africa dedicating much of his time to the sport. He has served as a transformative tool for the growth and the promotion of African basketball both within the continent and on the global stage.
Fall has proved as a powerful factor empowering youth with education across the continent, which he believes is the priority for sustained growth and prosperity moving forward.
Sport serves as a wonderful tool to push children towards getting an education, and an educated person will contribute towards the economic development in Africa. “Basketball is more than players running on a court, there is an entire industry that can be built through basketball” adds Fall.
Africa’s demographic is mostly younger, this is a unique opportunity for the continent to focus on equipping the next generation with skills and tools to make a difference globally.
”Sport is a way to figure out our efforts to contribute to the socio-economic development of our continent, ” he says.
Partnering with like-minded organizations to grow basketball is where the NBA and International Basketball Federation (FIBA) have worked with Fall to create, facilitate, and grow initiatives across Africa.
This developed into a strong long-standing relationship with the growth of basketball on the continent. The Basketball Without Borders Africa development camps, for girls and boys, were founded in 2003 and have since become a beacon on the African basketball calendar.
Fall says these camps serve to provide some of the top talent from across the continent with life skills seminars and teaching them the fundamentals of the game. Some amazing players from these camps have gone on to feature in the NBA, notably Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Pascal Siakam (Cameroon), with the latter winning an NBA Championship with the Toronto Raptors in the 2019-2020 season.
The relationship bloomed into the media spectacle that was the NBA Africa Game in 2015 which brought popular players from the NBA to an arena in Johannesburg, South Africa. This exhibition game proved as a great eye-opener to the excitement the sport of basketball generated around the continent and only motivated Fall to seize the opportunity and create a professional league that would rival the top leagues in the world. “The goal is to grow the game of basketball on a global basis, there is a natural alignment of interests that go hand-in-hand” says Fall in a recent interview with BAL’s Hang Time.
There has always been tremendous passion for basketball across the continent and a growing hunger for competition that promotes Africa’s talent. The inaugural Basketball Africa League was set to tip-off mid-March 2020 and be a new step in the ever-growing relationship between FIBA and the NBA. The league start has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.