SOAS University of London

Sports Diplomacy: A Sport, Diplomacy, and Governance Hub

Basketball Diplomacy in Africa

Tweet for former US President Barack Obama
Tweet for former US President Barack Obama

Basketball’s globalisation focuses attention on issues that transcend national boundaries and addresses the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity and migration. As former U.S. President Barack Obama stated in relation to an NBA and FIBA initiative to establish an indigenous African league, the Basketball Africa League (BAL), ‘This can be about a lot more than what happens on the court’. As basketball continues to grow exponentially across the African continent, the question becomes: what role can ‘Basketball Diplomacy’ play as the nexus of representation, communication and negotiation in the realms of sport and diplomacy? 

Today, as ever-more female and male basketballers play professionally beyond their national context in elite championships like the NBA WNBA, EuroLeague, and soon the BAL, individual athletes, team officials, and leagues conduct acts of basketball diplomacy every single day, breaking down cultural and language barriers while building bridges one alley-oop at a time.

Oral History Archive on Basketball Diplomacy in Africa

At the BAL Combine in Brooklyn, New York, December 2019
At the BAL Combine in Brooklyn, New York, December 2019 Photo Credit: Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff

The historic nature of the 12-team Basketball Africa League (BAL) provides a foundational moment to address pan-African identity, culture, and more. “Basketball Diplomacy in Africa: An Oral History from SEED Project to the BAL,” an Information and Knowledge Exchange initiative funded by a SOAS University of London, examined how basketball serves as a catalyst of change and makes a positive difference by unpacking the nexus of sports diplomacy to illustrate its social impact and foundation for sports development, business, and education in Africa. The programme explored how efforts from SEED Project (Sports for Education and Economic Development), a youth basketball academy in Senegal that promotes the next generation of African leaders through education and basketball, and Giants of Africa to Basketball Without Borders (NBA-FIBA), various NBA programmes, national team and federation-driven systems, and local grass-roots efforts have contributed in new ways to the discourse about Africa while growing the game across the continent. 

Basketball Diplomacy in Africa Oral History Repository

Blog Posts on Basketball Diplomacy in Africa

Gloal Sports Conversation Podcast Episodes on Basketball Diplomacy

Virtual Roundtable, “His Airness Spins the World: Michael Jordan and Basketball’s Global Growth” Tuesday 26 May 2020

Michael Jordan is an unlikely revolutionary, but one whose drive and ability to market his image and brand changed the game, the NBA, and basketball culture around the globe. One of the greatest players of all time, he racked up six NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls, more than a dozen NBA All-Star appearances, numerous Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, and two Olympic gold medals with Team USA (1984, 1992). Jordan’s role as part of the original U.S. Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Games captured imaginations around the world and inspired generations of players, alongside his 15-season NBA career played a hugely significant role globalizing the league and driving boys and girls from all six continents to “Be Like Mike.”

The Centre for International Studies & Diplomacy CISD will host a virtual roundtable on 26 May 2020 at 16h00 (UK time) to capture the moment as ESPN airs its new Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series addressing his final season as a player with the Bulls. Co-moderated by Dr J Simon Rofe and Dr Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff, the roundtable will engage policymakers, sports industry stakeholders, scholars and fans around the world in a discussion about Michael Jordan’s impact on global basketball, the extent to which he served and continues to serve as a sports diplomat, and the ways he changed the international game. Register here.

Other Resources

There are a growing trove of resources in English and French related to basketball in Africa and its role as a tool for education, development, and diplomacy. Among them are:

  • Watch the webinar "Michael Jordan and Basketball’s Global Growth", led by Dr J Simon Rofe and Dr Lindsar Sarah Krasnoff
  • CBS News, “Middlemen Luring African Basketballers,” on the darker side of recruitment of young African basketball players to high schools and colleges in the United States
  • Evan Medhi Fournier: Retour aux sources,” follow French international and Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier as he discovers basketball in his mother’s homeland Algeria alongside producer and former Algerian international Youcef Ouldyassia
  • Watch BAL Ambassador Luol Deng and Capital City Go-Go General Manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu's archived Instagram Live discussion on "The Future of Africa (Part One)".
  • Watch BAL Ambassador Luol Deng and Capital City Go-Go General Manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu's archived Instagram Live discussion on "The Future of Africa (Part Two)"
  • Watch "Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters" to learn a different perspective about basketball in Africa
  • Watch videos on The Basketball Africa League's YouTube channel, to learn more from BAL officials about the league, its format and inspiration, as well as introductions to teams who qualified for the BAL's first season of competition, such as Patriots BBC (Rwanda) and AS Police (Mali)
  • Anne Buford's film "Elevate" takes viewers inside SEED Academy and follows four players on their personal journeys