It is a new dawn for Kenyan basketball following the launch of National Basketball Association (NBA) office in Nairobi.
Five-time NBA champion Ron Harper, NBA Africa Chief Executive Officer Victor Williams and Basketball Africa League (Bal) President Amadou Gallo Fall are among the dignitaries who attended the event held Wednesday evening at Sankara Hotel in Nairobi.
Others included NBA Kenya Senior Director and Country Operations Lead Michale Finley, NBA Africa Head of Basketball Operations Frank Traore and Kenya Basketball Federation President Paul Otula.
Earlier in the day, Harper paid a courtesy call to President William Ruto at state house in Nairobi before conducting a basketball clinic for 70 budding basketballers at Sabis International School, Runda in Nairobi.
Ruto described the initiative as a turning point in the development of the sport in the country. He said the move will give Kenyan youth the opportunity to pursue professional basketball.
“Professional basketball promises to enhance talent commercialisation and transform the lives of our youth,” Ruto said.
At Sabis International School, the basketball clinic was also attended by US Ambassador to Kenya Margaret Whitman.
Addressing the press on the sidelines of the basketball clinic, Harper said Africa has a great potential in basketball and it is his wish to see more players from the continent playing in the NBA.
“A few years from today, I would like to see some of these players get to the junior academies and get a chance to become future NBA players. I always say that in the next five to 10 years, there will be a lot of great players from Africa, not only in Kenya,” said Harper.
Williams said NBA opted to have the office in Kenya since “it has a great basketball potential” thus a priority market for NBA.
Egypt, Senegal, South Africa and Nigeria are the only other African countries hosting NBA offices.
Williams said having the office in the country will see NBA work closely with the national government to actualise the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) they signed on September 22.
The MoU to develop basketball in the country is expected to expand basketball in the Kenyan education curriculum, with teachers and coaches being trained on the sport. Referees will also benefit from NBA clinics.
While emphasising on the need for Kenya to establish world-class basketball facilities, Finley said having NBA in the country will go a long way in improving on the “solid school basketball structure.”
He said that with several organisations, including the French Development Agency, having shown interest in partnering NBA in the initiative, they hope to set the ball rolling in the first quarter of 2024.
“Kenya in my humble opinion has worked harder on the grassroots level of the game than many African countries. Now with the NBA coming, we are able to help contribute to that by adding additional structures, bring a bit more attention and hopefully corporate Kenya into the game and help it grow,” he said.
Amadou urged KBF to make the local league vibrant so that Kenyan teams can in the near future qualify for the Basketball Africa League (Bal).
He said with a proper basketball arena in Kenya, they will be happy to host some of their events in the country.
US Ambassador Whitman said: “This is very significant for the relationship between Kenya and the US. Everyone knows the NBA, they chose to come to Kenya and are building basketball courts for the youth. Basketball used to be a bigger sport in Kenya so I know the government and NBA will bring that back starting with kids.”