NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces plans for Pan-African league

NBA stars hope to inspire future African talent (2:03)

Hear from NBA stars past and present as Basketball Without Borders aims to inspire in Africa. (2:03)

NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced on Saturday, ahead of the NBA Africa Game in Pretoria, that the league is putting plans in place to launch a tournament across the African continent.

Silver, who was speaking at a media roundtable alongside deputy commissioner Mark Tatum and NBA managing director for Africa Amadou Gallo Fall, made the revelation while discussing the development of the game in Africa.

In the country for the Basketball Without Borders week, with the NBA Africa Game the "cherry on the sundae", Silver spent an hour discussing predominantly African topics, but the mention of a major league on the continent, which has provided the NBA with 25 of its current stars, sparked much interest.

The commissioner said during his opening remarks: "When we were at the Mandela Centre of Memory [on Friday], we were reminded of his often repeated quote that sport has the power to change the world, and my addendum to that quote, having read much about President Mandela, was that sport is an economic engine.

"One of the opportunities we're exploring is the development of a Pan-African basketball league. It's still in its very early stages; the arena infrastructure is not yet in place to support a full-fledged league.

"But as we look out over the next decade, over the continent, at the economic development, the number of strong economies, the increasing interest in basketball, we think there is a real opportunity to do something like that.

"I met with Patrick Bauman [secretary general of FIBA] yesterday and he said he would be supportive of the concept as well. It's in the very early stages, but as I leave the continent in a few days, I'm leaving my charge to Amadou and his colleagues in Johannesburg to develop a fully-fledged plan."

Fall, who is also an NBA vice-president, named the likes of Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Tunisia as the hotbeds of the game in Africa and focal points for grassroots development, with the eventual goal of a continental league as a home for those players.

"It will complete the ecosystem, where kids will be identified at grassroots level, be given proper training through the academy system, and ultimately there will be a need to have local players, an aspirational level where they can compete right here on the continent," Fall said.

While the concept of this league is exciting, Silver agrees that Africa is not the easiest continent to traverse, with travel and security two valid concerns.

"If it were easy, it would have been done already," he said with a smile.

"It's a challenge, but I think we have as much experience in operating leagues as any organization in the world. We operate four leagues: the NBA, the WNBA, the G-League, and our e-sports league. So we know how to operate leagues.

"But it will take enormous co-operation from the African Union and governments to make it work. We have several ministers of sport attending the [NBA Africa] game who we've had conversations with. We've invested a lot in Africa over the last eight years, and we see an enormous opportunity here.

"The next step is for us to go back with the information we've learned here and formulate a plan. I'm not suggesting it's easy, and it will take some time and significant investment."

Silver was put on the spot when asked about the structure of the proposed league, where teams would come from, and how they would qualify.

He was honest in his response, saying: "I've thought about it, but we're too early in the process to give specific answers. But I know it's something Amadou and his staff are spending time on."