The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Kigali Arena was a digital display of a myriad of logos. Visit Rwanda, RwandAir, Brand Jordan, Nike, Wilson, Hennessy, New Fortress Energy, Social Nation Africa, Agence Française de Developpement (AFD) and other partners are already benefitting from the visibility the Basketball Africa League (BAL) is creating.
I was ushered to my seat in the invited guests’ lower bowl section of the stands a few minutes after tip-off. The second quarterfinal game of the inaugural BAL season was underway. It was a clash of the titans between Angola’s Clube Atlético Petroleos de Luanda and Association Sportive de Salé from Morocco.
Before I started following the game, the media frenzy caught my attention. Basketball in Africa has never been covered this extensively. The exposure given to this generation of ballers, plying their craft in Africa, is unprecedented.
The new league, co-organized by the NBA and FIBA, is broadcast around the world in 15 languages. Canal +, ESPN, AFN, TSN, NBA TV, VOA.... The number of networks represented here made me dizzy.
The first quarter gave me an impression that the game would be a blowout. The Angolan flag bearers hit the hardwood running, firing from all cylinders. As the clock ticked down, A.S. Salé crawled back into the game, taking advantage of a flurry of turnovers committed by the Luanda-based squad.
After blowing a seemingly comfortable lead, Petro regained control of the game following a 6-0 run with less than three minutes left. Just when I thought the Angolans had run out of gas, Jone Pedro’s baseline reverse dunk made fans jump out of their seats. Before order was restored, Antwan Scott knocked down a corner three. Ryan Richards’ left-handed hammer served as the final nail in the coffin.
League leading scorer, Terrel De Von Stoglin, dropped 30 points for the Moroccan side but it wasn’t enough to survive his opponents’ final punch. Petro’s Gerson Goncalves scored 19 points. Carlos Morais and Leonel Paulo chipped in 17 a piece for the winning team.
This was my first appearance in a sports event since the beginning of the pandemic. From the look of things, it was a glimpse into the future of Africa. What I saw in the arena is bigger than basketball.
The author is visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. His tour of Gasabo is sponsored by Ikaze Rwanda Tours & Travel, The Click Creations, The Peakspot Lodge and Elimo Real Estate Ltd.