NBA Looks To Africa As Next Growth Area - Silver

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks before Game One of the 2019 NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors, outlining the NBA's plans for global expansion. Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images


NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered a state of the league address on Thursday that sounded more like a foreign policy briefing that underscored the league's international ambition.

With the NBA Finals being played outside of the United States for the first time, the Toronto Raptors hosting the Golden State Warriors provided the perfect setting for Silver to detail the league's global vision.

The first question put to Silver and the last along with several in-between dealt with the league's efforts to grow markets outside the U.S. particularly in China, Africa, and India.

"I think symbolically having our first Finals outside the United States maybe has a big impact on countries that follow the NBA but don't have teams, whether that be in Asia or whether that be in Latin America," said Silver.

"So I think as we look back in time at the NBA calendar this clearly is a marker of sorts that here we are 2019 our Game One of the Finals taking place in Toronto, Canada.

"That will, I think, be a milestone."

The NBA announced at its all-star game earlier this year that it would partner with FIBA, international basketball's governing body, and for the first time operate a league outside of North America.

The Basketball Africa League is set to begin next year with 12 teams spread across the continent.

The competition is part of a development model the NBA successfully implemented in China, which is now their biggest market outside of the United States.

The sport will also be developed at the grassroots level with programmes like Basketball Without Borders Africa, with plans to reach more than 2.5 million boys and girls ages 16 and under through programmes in 21 African countries this year.

Silver said the fact that four players on the rosters of the Warriors and Raptors were either born in Africa or had a parent born there was a testament to how the sport had internationalised and could be developed.

"I think it absolutely speaks to the opportunity across the roughly 55 countries of Africa," he said.

"It's one of the places we're looking in the world where we see enormous opportunity."

It is not just an untapped talent pool, however, with millions of potential new fans that can now be reached through technology and social media, he said.

"I think ultimately it's because of transformational nature of digital media where in Africa, a continent of over a billion people, where there are something like 700 million cell phones, 400 million of which are smart phones," said Silver.

"So we see enormous growth opportunities both in terms of players and for participation and ultimately an interest for the league."

Silver said the NBA was aware they were not immune to the forces of global politics and were mindful of a developing trade war between the Chinese and U.S. governments, but he hoped the league could provide some sort of bridge between the two.

"I am not concerned at this time," said Silver.

"Of course we are not immune from global politics, so it's something we're paying a lot of attention to.

"I look though to sports, and this is something Yao Ming and I have discussed, where we can use basketball maybe in the way ping-pong was used in the days of Richard Nixon, that there could be something called basketball diplomacy.

"It is an area where our two countries have excellent history of cooperation."