NBA's Basketball Africa League to debut May 16 in Rwanda

The NBA's new Basketball Africa League plans to make its long-awaited debut on May 16 in Kigali, Rwanda.

The new league will include 12 teams from across Africa playing its inaugural season in 26 games at Kigali Arena in Rwanda rather than the initial plan of playing in different countries in Africa. The BAL was initially expected to debut on March 13, 2020, beginning in Dakar, Senegal, but it was postponed 10 days before that because of the coronavirus pandemic. The BAL, which is a partnership between the NBA and the International Basketball Federation, includes club teams from Africa and is the NBA's first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America.

"We are thrilled that the inaugural Basketball Africa League season will take place at the world-class Kigali Arena," said BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall. "Through the BAL, we will provide a platform for elite players from across the continent to showcase their talent and inspire fans of all ages, use basketball as an economic growth engine across Africa, and shine a light on Africa's vibrant sporting culture."

The BAL says it has created "robust health and safety protocols" for the 12 teams and their personnel traveling to Rwanda due primarily to the COVID-19 virus. The BAL says its health and safety protocols are from the guidance of public health officials and medical experts from the World Health Organization and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The BAL adds that the competition will tip off with an 18-game group phase with the 12 teams divided into three groups of four. During the group phase, each team will face the three other teams in its group once. The top eight teams from the group phase will qualify for the playoffs, which will be single elimination in all three rounds. The first BAL Finals will be held on May 30.

The 12 teams include Algeria's GSP (Groupement Sportif des Pétroliers), Angola's Petro de Luanda (Clube Atlético Petroleos de Luanda), Cameroon's FAP (Forces Armées et Police Basketball), Egypt's Zamalek, Madagascar's GNBC (Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club), Mali's AS Police (Association Sportive de la Police Nationale), Morocco's AS Salé (Association Sportive de Salé), Mozambique's Ferroviàrio de Maputo, Nigeria's Rivers Hoopers BC, Rwanda's Patriots BC, Senegal's AS Douanes (Association Sportive des Douanes) and Tunisia's US Monastir (Union Sportive Monastirienne).

Champions from the national leagues in Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia earned their participation in the inaugural season. The remaining six teams, from Algeria, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique and Rwanda, secured their participation through BAL qualifying tournaments conducted by FIBA's African regional office across the continent in late 2019.

"We are extremely happy to finally launch the highly anticipated first season of the BAL," said FIBA Africa and BAL board president Anibal Manave. "FIBA and the NBA have been working closely together to develop protocols to address the health and safety of all players, coaches and officials. The experience of hosting the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 Qualifiers in Rwanda late last year will contribute to a safe and successful inaugural BAL season."