The NBA is a league filled with player representing many countries and today over 35 NBA players in the NBA are from the Africa or second generation.
When Warriors center Festus Ezeli came here 10-years ago his goal was to become a doctor. Fast forward to today he is a World Champion with an Ivy League education under his belt.
Ezeli and the NBA will be making history Saturday when he represents Team Africa versus Team World in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa program in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is the first NBA game to be played on the continent and the game sold out in 19-minutes.
“It feels really good to work hard at our craft as players and mentor these kids,” said Ezeli via phone conference Thursday.
Ezeli, a native of Nigeria hasn’t been to the continent since he left at the age of 14. Since his arrival on Tuesday he’s been busy with camps teaching children the fundamentals of basketball.
When Sports in the Bay asked him what it felt like to be part of such a monumental game Ezeli said, “It’s very exciting for sure. I felt the love of the kids and I’m super excited about the life lessons.” While he’s excited to be in Johannesburg it was evident his heart was in Nigeria and his hopes are to have a game there one day.
So far the most memorable parts of his trip is the reception he’s received from the kids and learning about South Africa. “They come up to you and say they saw my game, it’s a great feeling. “The second thing is I love to learn and keep learning,” noting he’s enjoyed learning about South Africa’s history and visiting museums.
He’s expecting several family members and friends to come to the game and most will be experiencing an NBA game for the first time.
Team Africa is comprised of players born in Africa as well as second generation players who along with Ezeli include: team captain and two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng (Miami Heat; Great Britain; born in South Sudan), Al-Farouq Aminu (Portland Trail Blazers; U.S.; parents from Nigeria), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks; Greece; parents from Nigeria), Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets; France; parent from Cameroon), Bismack Biyombo (Toronto Raptors; Democratic Republic of the Congo), Boris Diaw (San Antonio Spurs; France; parent from Senegal), Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves; Senegal), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder; Congo)* and Luc Mbah a Moute (Sacramento Kings; Cameroon).
Team World, comprised of players from the rest of the world, will feature team captain, NBPA President and eight-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers; U.S.), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards; U.S.), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets; U.S.), Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies; Spain), Pau Gasol (Chicago Bulls; Spain), Jeff Green (Memphis Grizzlies; U.S.), Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics; U.S.), Evan Turner (Boston Celtics; U.S.) and Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic; Montenegro).
Five-time NBA Champion Gregg Popovich will coach Team Africa, with 2014-15 NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks and Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams serving as assistant coaches. Brooklyn Nets General Manager Billy King and Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri are the Team Africa general managers, with Eric Waters (Washington Wizards) serving as the team’s athletic trainer.
Brooklyn Nets Coach Lionel Hollins will coach Team World, with Boston Celtics Coach Brad Stevens serving as assistant coach. San Antonio Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford is the Team World general manager, while Keon Weise (Orlando Magic) will be the team’s athletic trainer.
The event is to support of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Africa, SOS Children’s Villages Association of South Africa and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The game will air live in the U.S. on ESPN at 6:00 a.m. PST and in Africa on SuperSport at 3:00 p.m. CAT.
For more information visit #nbaafricagame or @NBAAfrica.