The National Basketball Association (NBA) prides itself in being a league that draws players from all over the world. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant speaks Spanish to Pau Gasol during games when he doesn’t want opposing teams to know what is going on. Last year’s Western Conference Finals saw two French nationals, Boris Diaw and Tony Parker, reunited on the San Antonio Spurs after having played basketball together in boarding school.
While not as prolific in producing NBA players as Canada (21 players all-time) or Serbia and France (18 each), Africa has produced its share of superstars—Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwan, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Dikembe Mutombo, and more. This season is no different, featuring an exciting batch of elite players, young upstarts, and veterans from the continent taking to the courts. Without further ado, here is Africa.com’s guide to active African players in the NBA. Who are you looking forward to watching this season? Let us know in the comments section.
1) The Heart of the Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng (South Sudan)
With former MVP and captain Derrick Rose out at least half of this season with an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament, the onus has fallen to Luol Deng, an All-Star small forward from South Sudan, to produce and step up his game. Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau has admitted as much in interviews, saying “[I expect from Deng] the same thing as last year and the year before—just about everything.”
Coming from the meticulous Thibodeau, these are potentially difficult words to hear. But Deng, who fled from South Sudan with his parents when he was a youngster, has always been more than a statsman for the Bulls. Just check out this video of Deng mixing it up during a first-round playoffs game in 2011, and then pumping up the crowd at the United Center. Deng, who played through wrist injuries last season, is the heart of this team.
2) Oklahoma City’s Big Man: Serge Ibaka (Republic of Congo)
Just like Deng in Chicago, this year will prove pivotal in the career of Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder. After months of speculation of whether OKC would try to keep Ibaka versus keeping the Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, the team traded Harden to the Houston Rockets. Hate or love the decision, a solid big man in this league matters. And while Ibaka has yet to have reached his full potential, Ibaka, the reigning leader in blocks last year, shows flashes of defensive brilliance. Just check out this montage of blocked shots from last year’s game two of the NBA Finals. Offensively, with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant returning this season, OKC has more than a good chance of returning to this year’s finals. But if they are to win it all this year, Ibaka is key.
3) The Wizard’s Towering Foodie: Emeka Okafor (American-born to Nigerian parents)
Remember when Emeka Okafor led the University of Connecticut to a men’s championship title in 2004? Well, the big man is now 30 years old, and has sojourned from the Charlotte Bobcats, who chose him with their second place draft pick in 2004, to the New Orleans Hornets in 2009, to his current team, the Washington Wizards. In a team full of young upstarts, Okafor adds a quiet professionalism to the team. A finance major in college, Okafor is a big reader, seasoned traveler, foodie, and does yoga and pilates before each game.
4) Fantasy Basketball Pick: Bismack Biyombo (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Averaging just 23.1 minutes in his debut season last year, Charlotte Bobcats power forward/center Bismack Biyomobo (right) managed to average 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. Fantasy basketball participants are foaming at the mouth at the prospect of increased minutes—and numbers. Fans of playoffs basketball, however, are not expected to wait on bated breath, as the Bobcats finished with perhaps the worst record in league history last year.
5) Coming Off the Bench: Al-Farouq Aminu (American-born to Nigerian parents)
The role of small forward for the New Orleans Hornets belongs to Al-Farouq Aminu, but after a preseason of inconsistent play, the position may be slipping from his grip. We’ll be keeping an eye on the young Nigerian to see if he’ll manage to impress his team enough for them to re-sign him for the 2013-2014 season.
6) The Veteran: DeSagana Diop (Senegal)
Gana Diop, perhaps best known as one of the league’s worst “flopping” offenders, is going into his 12th season in the league. While there was a time when he was a solid defensive player for the Dallas Mavericks, he now comes off the bench for the Charlotte Bobcats, and is known for his not-so-perfect free throws. We’ll still be rooting for him, though.
Happy basketball-viewing and let us know what you think in the comments section below!