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Could The Next Michael Jordan Jump From Juba?

Basketball. It is fast-paced, popular, glamorous and packed with players from Africa. The talent export business is booming.

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More than 30 African players are shooting baskets in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States and many more will soon be on their way.

Leading the hunt for talent is the towering figure of Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Africa vice president for development in Africa, who is scouring the continent for the next Michael Jordan.

Amadou Gallo Fall

Fall has walked the winding road from Africa to the riches of the NBA. Born in Senegal, he was discovered by a Peace Corps worker and won a basketball scholarship to the United States. He played for the University of the District of Colombia in a 17-year career and also scouted for the Dallas Mavericks, who are the current NBA champions.

Six months ago, Fall set out for South Sudan, Africa’s newest country.

“We have a long-standing history with the country. The first NBA player from Africa to have had an impact on our league, who had a successful career and was well respected, was Manute Bol,” says Fall.

Bol was born in Turalei in South Sudan, where he grew up herding cattle. One of his most famed stories was how he once killed a lion with a spear to protect the herd.

Bol was literally someone to look up to as he stood 7ft 6ins tall and wore size 16 sneakers. He emigrated to the United States in 1982 and joined the Washington Bullets in 1985. He became not only the tallest player in the NBA, but the best shot blocker in the game. In retirement, Bol used to return often to South Sudan in a bid to heal the country after its civil war. Sadly, he died in Charlottesville, Virginia, in June 2010, aged 47, less than a year before his country assumed its statehood. He died of kidney disease caused by the complication of a rare skin complaint.

The Bol legacy survives in South Sudan, as does the basketball court where he shot his first ever basket, but there are precious few places where the young can embark on their hoop dreams.

Despite the lack of basketball courts, Fall believes the land is awash with fresh talent.

“The interest in the sport is definitely there and there is a fan base. We also need to develop the local expertise,” he says.

The question is: could the next Michael Jordan—or Manute Bol—spring from Juba?

“We want kids in Juba to aspire to reach for the highest level based on their potential. If we remain consistent in our engagement in South Sudan, develop infrastructure and build capacity by training coaches, there is no doubt that elite players will emerge but we are excited about the opportunity to use the game to impact on communities at large,” says Fall.

There is the NBA Cares program, which, since 2005, has spent over $150 million building more than 500 places where youngsters can play. Thirty-five of these are in Africa.

In Africa, it runs basketball clinics for youngsters between the ages of seven and 19.

The long and short of it; Manute Bol #10 of the Washington Bullets waits for the action to begin during the NBA game at the Capital Centre circa 1988 in Baltimore, Maryland

In the hunt for talent, Basketball Without Borders, held in Johannesburg this year, remains its flagship grassroots event on the continent. It brings together young basketball players from across Africa. One of the many programs set up since the NBA opened an office in Johannesburg in May 2010, with the hope of riding the sports wave created by the FIFA World Cup.

“Within the first 12 months, we signed a unique partnership with the Royal Bafokeng Nation that is making a real impact in the region in terms of the number of coaches and players whom we have actively helped. This is a good example of how we are impacting the game on a very local level, working with the community, building courts and providing playing opportunities,” Fall says.

South Africa is seen as a happy hunting ground for the NBA and Fall has big plans. He sees an opportunity to host NBA games here in future and talks of plans to set up a university league.

Television would be part of these plans and it appears the small screen is already helping spread the game of basketball in Africa.

NBA games, featuring 10 players from Africa, were broadcast to 55 African countries and territories, in five languages, during the 2010-11 season.

“In Africa there is tremendous potential for growth, but investment in the sport is crucial in order to tackle the accessibility issue and the scarcity of local coaching expertise. Given the huge athletic potential, there is no doubt that as the game grows, the business will grow too.

With the NBA having so many players from the continent it is a clear indication that talent exists in abundance,” says Fall.

Whilst South Sudan appears to be an incubator for talent, according to Fall, he is careful to also nod to Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We definitely think South Sudan is up there too,” he smiles.

Bul Bior, from South Sudan, was at the basketball get-together in Johannesburg this year. With hard work and a little luck, maybe he could be the next Michael Jordan or Manute Bol.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Sport

The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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