The exhibition, named “Basketball Without Borders” was structured as Team World versus Team Africa, with players such as Chris Paul, Pau Gasol, Jeff Green or Bradley Beal playing for the former, and Luol Deng, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Serge Ibacka and Boris Diaw for the latter. However, things really spiced out when former NBA stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo shocked the crowd and entered the game for a couple of minutes, putting on a great display despite the significant number of years passed from their retirement.
The match, which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, was quite alert for its status and ended with a narrow 101-97 win for Team World. Bradley Beal for 18 and Giannis Antetokounmpo with 22 were the top scorers for their respective teams. The teams were coached by multiple NBA champion Gregg Popovich (Team Africa) and last year’s breakthrough coach Lionel Hollins (Team World).
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and head coaches Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics) and Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta Hawks) also made the trip to Johannesburg for the historic match. Mutombo and Olajuwon were supposed just to be in attendance, but they donned their old jerseys and showed that NBA skills don’t wane even with time; as Olajuwon scored with a trademark “Dream Shake”.
Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was also in attendance, being in charge of organizing a three-day basketball camp with 60 top African future prospects born in 1998. Ujiri, who was born in Nigeria, is known for holding training camps throughout Africa in the summer and recruiting top African prospects for the NBA. After the South African event ends, Ujiri will travel to other African countries such as Nigeria and Rwanda to organize training camps, and will also help at the building of a modern basketball court in Kenya.
„To see the passion a guy like Masai has for the kids touches you and gives you goosebumps. They have a connection with the kids, and the kids love the game so much. That was the biggest surprise for me” said NBA superstar Chris Paul.
Basketball Without Borders was the first game organized by the NBA in the African continent, but previous editions hold training camps from which prospects like Joel Embiid or Gorgui Dieng had the chance to train with NBA superstars, before joining the league themselves.
Image Source: nba.com