By Ronald Mpaso:
Basketball has, for many years, been one of the country’s most popular games along with football and netball.
Such was the popularity of the game that in the days of big stars such as Zitto Phillips and Madano Thephetheya, Blantyre Youth Centre was a beehive of activity with thousands patronising the match venue to enjoy the skills of Malawi’s top slam-dunkers.
These were the days of top teams such as Unisys Falcons, Crazy Warriors and City Rockets.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, some sports lovers would even set aside their football appetites to go and enjoy a free game of basketball.
This was a game that was good enough to enjoy sponsorship from the corporate world that could not resist the temptation of missing out on the potential market involved in basketball.
The country’s three basketball zones of Sozobal, Cezobal and Nozobal were also very vibrant as they organised competitive leagues throughout the year.
The competitiveness of the game also trickled down to various educational institutions across the country where students learnt the tricks of the trade before joining big clubs.
Prominent names in the game such as Victor Jere, Simeon Gama and Weluzani Chingota went through this path to achieve their status in the game.
But the game began to lose its appeal in the mid-1990s and it is yet to recover fully.
Apart from individual efforts of one Griffin Kaluwa who has men’s and ladies’ teams under the banner of Bravehearts, there has not been much in terms of basketball representing Malawi on the international stage.
And as if to rub salt onto a bleeding wound, Malawi has missed out on Africa’s professional basketball league which will be launched by United States’ National Basketball Association (NBA).
It will feature 12 teams from several countries across the continent and will debut next year with the name Basketball Africa League.
It will include teams from several African countries, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
According to cnn.com, NBA announced its plan along with the International Basketball Federation, and will conduct qualification tournaments later this year.
While there are several basketball teams across Africa, a pro league will unify them under one umbrella and provide resources and visibility.
“The Basketball Africa League is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “Combined with our other programs on the continent, we are committed to using basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa.”
Former President Barack Obama applauded the announcement.
“I’ve always loved basketball because it is about building a team that is equal to more than the sum of its parts. Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court,” Obama tweet
NBA’s ties to Africa go a long way. Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby, whose parents are from Nigeria, and Hornets center Bismack Biyombo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were among the players who attended the NBA All-Star Africa luncheon last Saturday, where the announcement was made.
Other players with ties to Africa include Joel Hans Embiid, a Cameroonian who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. NBA global ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, who played for several teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Raptors President Masai Ujiri is from Nigeria.
Basketball Association of Malawi (Basmal) General Secretary, Edgar Ng’ong’ola, said he is aware of the introduction of the league.
Ng’ong’ola said Malawians should not be worried that they have been left out because the country will be considered in the coming years.
“The criteria that was used to identify teams for the league was their ranking in the game. The countries which are in the pilot phase have been playing regularly in various international competitions. We have not been that active for many years but we are coming up,” he said.
Ng’ong’ola said Basmal has been making efforts to revive Malawi’s basketball profile on the international stage through participating in club competitions.
He said the association also intends to form a national team that will compete in major tournaments across the continent so that Malawi joins the list of top teams.
“We had four teams competing in Fiba qualifiers last year. Other teams were also able to travel to countries within the region to compete in various tournaments. We are also able to bring teams from other countries for tournaments here in Malawi and this is a good development. It is comforting to see stakeholders in the game such as G.Y. Import and Export supporting our efforts in reviving the game across the country,” Ng’ong’ola said.
On youth development, Ng’ong’ola said Basmal is banking on the K62 million National Bank of Malawi Mo626 Ice College Basketball tournament which is in its second year after the inaugural launch in 2017.
Basmal should indeed continue with efforts to raise the game’s profile both on the local and international stages as it has the potential to reach great heights.
Malawi basketball would have benefited in a big way if the league had included the local game in its professional setup.
The general consensus is that Malawi sport needs to adopt a professional approach and this would have been a great starting point for basketball.
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