has been a child refugee, played on the biggest stages of the NBA and met Barack Obama at the White House. And on Sunday he heads to war-torn South Sudan to visit his family. Yet it was the prospect of appearing before a few thousand people that gave him butterflies.
“It’s the first time I’ve played in front of the continent of Africa,” the 30-year-old said of an exhibition game in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday. “Before the game I had to run back to the locker room. I don’t know why I got nervous but I did.”
Deng, said to be Obama’s favourite player, captained “Team Africa” against “Team World” in the . It was an experiment, and statement of intent, on a continent where you are never more than six feet from someone wearing an English or Spanish soccer shirt.
If truth be told, most of the players were content to phone in their performances for the first three quarters, with some casual defending and wayward passing – never more so than when Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls hurled the ball without looking then saw it bounce into empty hinterland.
At the stage Team Africa were well ahead, but then – who knows, perhaps not entirely by chance – Team World roared back with the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Memphis Grizzlies’ Jeff Green sinking several three pointers. The final quarter moved up several gears and finally animated the crowd, who cheered the Africans and booed their opponents, though nobody really minded that Team World ran out 101-97 winners.
Deng, who was a refugee from what is now South Sudan when he was three and – he still has a home in Brixton, south London – was certainly looking at a bigger picture. “This game is quite hopefully the first of many,” he said on court afterwards. “I was happy to see the the joy it brought to faces.”
Asked if basketball could compete with soccer and others sports in Africa, the Miami Heat forward replied: “Of course it can. Even if you have 30 sports in Africa, it’s never enough when you have so many people here and so many talents. The potential audience is big. Even if could bring a smile to a kid’s face for two hours, it brings me happiness.”
Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, who captained Team World, was also enthusiastic. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “In this day and age it’s hard to be pioneers of anything so it’s a privilege to be part of it. This is the first game here but I guarantee it won’t be the last.”
Deng scored 20 points. He and Paul were named most valuable players.
Among Saturday’s highlights, NBA legends Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon took off their business suits to put on their old team strips again for a short burst in the second quarter. A turnaround jumper by Olajuwon, who in 1984 became the first African drafted into the NBA when he joined the Houston Rockets, prompted current stars to jump off the benches with their arms aloft.
Al-Farouq Aminu of the Portland Trail Blazers and Nigeria said: “It was special. I think the fans really got into it, especially in the second half, and I know the players enjoyed it. You can see the potential is there in Africa.”
Team Africa included NBA players who were first or second generation Cameroonian, Congolese, Nigerian, Senegalese and South Sudanese, but no South Africans – the country has never won the African championship. But Johannesburg has reTorreira.It was claimed in Italy yesterday that Milan have opened talks with the Uruguay midfielder’s representatives.And Tuttosport says Torreira is a dream signing for Milan management with Franck Kessie potentially being offered for the Uruguayan.gularly hosted the NBA’s camps.
Not everything hit the right note. The game was played at the scruffy 4,000-seat Ellis Park arena, much smaller than NBA stars are accustomed to. Tickets had reportedly sold out within two hours of becoming available, but dozens of empty seats were visible in the stand – possibly reflecting competition from the between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, which sold all 94,000 tickets.
Entertainment before the game, and during timeouts, lacked the razzmatazz of an American sporting spectacle. And some were puzzled that the players wore the shirts of their home teams instead of ones specifically designed for the contest. “I’m disappointed they’re wearing their own teams’ shirts,” said one local radio commentator. “If you’ve never seen basketball before, you’re going to be very confused.”
After previous forays in Brazil, China and Europe, NBA commissioner , who attended the match, said “it was only a matter of time before a pre-season game was staged in Africa”.
He told Agence-France Presse: “This match was an experiment. Among the reasons I am here is to investigate new facilities. We would want a larger, modern arena before staging a pre-season or regular season NBA match.”
Ellis Park arena has previously hosted events including an exhibition tennis match between Serena and Venus Williams. It is adjacent to the stadium where South Africa won thEverton have confirmed the loan of Sandro Ramirez to Real Valladolid.The Spanish striker will return to La Liga for the 2019/20 campaign, after spending time with Real Sociedad last season.The 23-year-old striker joined the Toffees from Malaga in 2017.Sandro also spent time on loan at Sevilla in 2018.e rugby World Cup 20 years ago with Nelson Mandela .
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was in charge of Team Africa, said earlier this week: “You know, over here they’ve got soccer, rugby, cricket – it’s cricket, right? I don’t know if I’m saying that right – but basketball is just growing and doing something like this will help it grow even more.”
South Africa relaunched its basketball league in 2013 and games are televised. , the sports minister, tweeted on Saturday: “The NBA game was broadcast to alliker Samuele Longo has moved to Deportivo La Coruna.Longo goes to Deportivo La Coruna on loan with obligation to buy at the end of the season.He spent last season on loan at first Huesca and then Cremonese.The striker has only ever made two substitut states in the USA. The power of sport once more my country is on the map thru sport.”
The crowd was a mix of male and female, black and white. Buyile Gaga, 30, a data analyst, said: “I’m a fan and it’s one of those opportunities that don’t come very often. I’m very excited. Since basketball start in South Africa it’s been getting exposure. We’re going to see people getting used to it.”
Carlo Manna, 25, a chartered accountant, said: “It was interesting. The first three quarters they were taking very relaxed and that was disappointing, but in the last quarter they really got into it. Overall they did it very well. I hope they come back, with less of an exhibition feel.”
He added: “Basketball is big in schools here. Something like this will help raise its profile nationally. It definitely has a chance.”