The first-ever NBA game played in Africa will feature three known Muslim players: Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu (Portland Trail Blazers), power forward Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets) and center Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves). Retired basketball legend Hakeem Olajuwon, also a practicing Muslim, will attend the game in his official role as NBA Africa Ambassador.
On August 1 at Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg, South Africa, “Team Africa” will meet “Team World” in a preseason exhibition. Each roster will be made up of current NBA players and coached by current NBA head coaches. Proceeds will go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Africa, SOS Children’s Villages Association of South Africa, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. ESPN will air the game in the U.S. at 9 a.m. EST.
Team Africa consists of players who were either born in Africa or whose parents were born in Africa. Led by All-Star forward Luol Deng (Miami Heat), the team includes Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets), Boris Diaw (San Antonio Spurs), Bismack Biyombo (Toronto Raptors), Festus Ezeli (Golden State Warriors), Luc Mbah a Moute (free agent), along with Aminu and Dieng.
Aminu’s parents are from Nigeria, and he played for the Nigerian national team at the 2012 London Olympics. Dieng is from Senegal, whom he represented in last summer’s FIBA World Cup.
Team World is headlined by All-Star point guard Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and includes Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics), Evan Turner (Boston Celtics), Jeff Green (Memphis Grizzlies), Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), Pau Gasol (Chicago Bulls), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Faried, an American raised by a Muslim mother in New Jersey.
Five-time NBA champion head coach Gregg Popovich will coach Team Africa, while Brooklyn Nets head coach Lionel Hollins (who won a championship as a player with the Trail Blazers in 1977) will coach Team World.
Team Africa will need Popovich’s strategic genius, because they’re simply overmatched on paper. Team Africa has size, but Team World has two of the best big men in the world; the Gasol brothers both started in last season’s NBA All-Star Game. Pau is a two-time champion and Marc is a former Defensive Player of the Year.
And then there’s the backcourt. While Team World has arguably the best point guard in the world (Paul) and a rising All-Star caliber shooting guard (Beal), Team Africa has no guards at all. Seriously. No one on the Africa roster is a natural backcourt player. While Popovich will have a height advantage with whatever set of guards he chooses to use, his guys will be at a disadvantage when it comes to ball-handling, passing and running an offense.
Therefore, don’t be surprised if the game really hinges on the performance of Aminu. The 6-foot-9 Trail Blazer earned his newly-signed $30 million contract primarily with his defensive ability. He’s long and quick for his size and would be a good candidate to take on the primary responsibility of defending Paul and Smart, Team World’s two natural point guards, or Beal. How Aminu plays could greatly impact Team Africa’s chances of getting a victory on their home-away-from-home floor.