South Africa's basketball community

Hop on the Basketball Roller coaster ride

By on July 30, 2008 in News

A few weeks back, I asked a few basketball people in the know their opinion on what has been happening in the sport over the past few years and what we should look forward to. Tshepo Ditshego provided me with this article he had published in Tribute magazine in South Africa in April 2007 and I thought it provides more insight in the state of our game a year on.

Hop on the Basketball Roller coaster ride

I have no doubt in my mind that basketball is the most exciting sport in the whole world. Don’t take my word for it; ask the 350 million people that the international basketball federation (FIBA) estimates are playing basketball worldwide. They can’t all be wrong can they? This is a sport that was only recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1930. Since then the game has caught on in over 213 countries, 53 of which are in the motherland. South Africa first affiliated to FIBA way back in 1992. But our basketball history is far from memorable. We have been through a roller coaster ride of ups and downs in all our sports and basketball is no exception.

After 15 years of international affiliation and with superior infrastructure compared to all 53 affiliated countries in Azania, I would have expected South Africa to be the giant of African basketball. Or at the least to be producing NBA and Division 1 caliber players who could go ply their trade in the United States or in Europe. But for some reason at the present moment we are only ranked 61 in the world. That’s way behind Angola who are currently ranked 14th by FIBA and are by far the number one team in Africa. So what have they done right and where have we gone wrong?

At the moment there are three NBA players with South African roots. The one is Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, the other is Chicago Bulls guard Thabo Sefolosha, and the last is 7 foot 2 center, Frans Steyn who is playing in the NBA development league for the Tulsa 66’ers.

The most famous of them all is Steve Nash. He’s the reigning two-time Most Valuable Player of the NBA and believe it or not he was actually born in South Africa. His father, John Nash, used to play professional football in South Africa. He was born during their brief stay in the country. At the tender age of 2 Steve Nash and his family went to Canada where he eventually became the best point guard Canada has ever produced since Eli Pasquale.

Is it a coincidence that Steve Nash had to grow up in Canada in order to become a great basketball player? What would have happened if John Nash decided to stay? Well, I think we all know the answer to that. He would have probably been the best all rounder to ever play the game of cricket or maybe the fly-half that helped the Springboks beat the All-Blacks. Since his dad was a good football player he might be playing for one of the big soccer teams. Without proper structures in place and support for the game, I doubt that basketball would have been an option for him.

In the 90’s basketball made a huge impact on South Africa. At one stage it was the fastest growing sport in the whole country. The professional basketball league was running, there were sponsored 3 on 3 tournaments happening all over the country, street-ball was popular, and there were leagues in the townships and even at tertiary institutions. Everything seemed to be in place for basketball to begin winning over the hearts of eager fans all over Mzanzi. The momentum seemed unstoppable.

SABC 1 used to show NBA Action with Ahmad Rashad and live NBA games for the whole country to enjoy. Slowly but surely young kids were getting hooked. Everybody knew who Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson were. It was the ideal moment for converting the masses.

At the time I could imagine 50 home grown Steve Nash’s, 100 Thabo Sefolosha’s and 30 Frans Steyns all lining up for College scholarships on a yearly basis. I had visions of a successful high school league with 20,000 high school teams participating annually. I could see live Professional Basketball League games being aired on terrestrial television with sponsors lining up to be apart of the league. I loved the thought of kids preferring to play a pick up game rather than loitering on street corners and being tempted into drugs or crime.

These are visions of what could have been if the momentum had kept going. Somehow a combination of factors stopped the momentum dead in its tracks.

First it was the discontinuation of the professional basketball league, which killed the aspirations of players who wanted to make a living from balling. This led to disinterest from the sponsors who were now trying to get as far away as they can from this problem child known as basketball.

The domino effect kicked in from this point on. Without any money in the game the media became disinterested and started focusing on the traditional favorites, cricket, soccer and rugby. As if they needed any more coverage.

Then the experienced administrators also started dropping like flies as they left the game for greener pastures. All these factors combined hit the development of the game on the ground. Pretty soon the structures were not stable enough to keep the momentum going. This led to a steady decline in interest and the talent pool dropped like barometers in an Antarctica winter.

The game must have been hit by the millennium virus because since 2000 things have never been the same. The national team has also been severely affected. It’s unreasonable to expect a team that doesn’t have a professional league and proper development structures to perform at international tournaments. That is why we are only ranked 61. I’m not surprised. That’s why we haven’t produced a Steve Nash, we had to delegate that task to Canada or we would have failed miserably. Oh and what about Thabo Sefolosha he’s South African and we managed to produce him right? Wrong! Thabo’s parents are South African but he grew up in Switzerland and that’s were he learned how to play. Frans Steyn was born and bred here but that is the reason why he’s only playing in the development league instead of being a dominant center in the NBA. After leaving Waterkloof High School, Frans went to Oklahoma State in the US but he had a lot to learn when he got there. By the time he finished college he was still not good enough to be picked in the NBA draft. If only he grew up in maybe Canada or Switzerland. He might be a household name by now.

I must say it’s not all doom and gloom. Yes basketball has had a rough patch, but the roller coaster ride is on its way up again. According to BMI the game is still second after cricket in terms of growth of all the ball sports. There is still a lot of work to be done on the ground but at least the Professional Basketball League (PBL) is up and running again thanks to Sprite (please note that this article was published in April 2007 and the PBL is no longer running). The National team qualified for the African Championships in Angola and All Africa Games after finishing undefeated at the Zone 6 qualifiers this year. The media has also been coming to the party recently. Supersport, ESPN, SABC, Tribute and YFM have all been doing their part in order to support this wonderful game I fell in love with 17 years ago. So watch this space this won’t be the last time you hear about basketball!

Article supplied by Tshepo Ditshego

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There Are 8 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Cabby says:

    I remember this article, very well written. We hope Tshepo continues to write more about his views on basketball. Makes for good reading! Well done to him, Vic & his team and everyone doing something about bball. While I’m still on this, I would like to see some of your website critics creatively adding value to the site. I am personally tired of hearing people talk about constructive criticism where they themselves are doing nothing but criticize. To give reference to what I am talking about, there was an out cry with the article that Nthabiseng published (Momentum vs Wits Alumni) that other games were not covered. I was very happy on how you (Vic) and Nthabiseng handled the query but I am still upset that one of your readers (i think he was referred to as Faceless Baller) complaining about how all the other games were not covered. If he’s heart was really focused towards adding value to the game, he could have simply added to the day’s excitement by writing an article about what he saw with the other games (as you rightfully responded) as his/her addition to the information sharing instead of really complaining why the other games were not covered. People can only do so much in their personal capacity and just to respond to Joe who seemed to protect baller about getting his views heard and comparing that to how we are quick to criticize BSA/GBA when they are not doing good work, well this website is not supported by the government and BSA is accountable to the public and not this site’s journalists. I feed off positive energy and reading the so called “constructive criticism” just drains every excitement out of me. So to all who are hoping to complain about what is not covered on this site in the future, instead of hearing about your complaints, rather tell us what you would like us to know. For all the other readers who feel the same way, I suggest we ingore comments that seem to be negative and ride on the exctiment of sharing positive minds. Basketball needs all the positive energy it can get to take it the next level, something I beleive basketball can get to sooner than later.

  2. setlogelo says:

    There is still a copy of that magazine in my cabinet. It is wonderful to go through the writ again and reminisce about the excitement I had when I read the article. The copy was so special because it indicated the stance of basketball then. If it were to be written again, the theme would be disappointing.

    Publishing is a critical factor for basketball. I also believe that there are a lot of stories out there that can make a difference. These are stories of strength and power that will bring the interest of the sport back in the media spotlight. The contributions of journalists such as Tshepo and presenters such as Siyabonga are phenomenal. They indicate the yearn of a better sport we anticipate and hope for. A good future for basketball is what we all of want. These are the kind of people that give hope. One would think that they will disappear due to the status of the sport. Nay, they are still as passionate as ever. They have a winning vision about the sport of basketball.

    Since I started on this blog, there has been a growing number of hits. However I realised that contributers are more or less the same people. The content produced on this blog is phenomenal. It can become a good base of providing content to other media. It can contribute to a trigger for the production of consistent and excitement on the news for basketball. Likewise, I believe on the positive energy which will bring glory in the sport.

  3. Baller says:

    i agree with you Cabby.

  4. Darren says:

    I missed the original article, so great to read it here, and how true it rings! Very good Tshepo.

    Cabby, excellent comment! I agree with you fully – there are many people who have something of value to say but are either to negative or too scared to say something.

    In this light, watch out for the new look MyBasketball, which will hopefully stimulate growth of the community and perhaps bring out some more positive voices. In the meantime, if anybody has other articles like the one above please send it through – basketball can use all the love it gets right about now.

    Speaking of magazines, does anyone remember the Hoops magazine that was published around the beginning of the new millenium? Anyone recall what happened to it?

  5. kim says:

    Positivity and getting hands dirty by doing something positive is the key.Dont want to spoil your message Cabby.Nuf said

  6. Jon W says:

    I was one of the benefactors of basketball growth in the 90’s with out it I wouldn’t have gotten to come to the states with the sa junior basketball team and got a scholarship here.

  7. victor says:

    Hey Jon W,

    We need to share those positive experiences with the new generation. They didn’t have the chance for that kind of exposure and people like you could show them that it is not a fairytale.


  8. K says:

    i know this is way delayed – in answer to Darren’s question – Hoops went bang for three reasons:

    1. BSA pulled out of endorsing the magazine because we were critically analysing their performance – Vusi on one occasion refused to do an interview ith me beacuse he was convinced that our only goal in life was to nail BSA.

    2. Ineffective business model used to manage the magazine and it was running a huge loss – the controlling company just couldn’t keep it on their books. Advertisers tend to be interested in a medium that is reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers (mind you that the SA population is 50 million) we couldn’t even sell 11 000 copies over 2/3 months. The magazine industry is cut throat…

    3. The main reason – basketball is in very bad health in SA, there just was not enough content nor support to keep the mag commerically viable. Most other basketball activities currently still running in SA tend to not be for financial/business gain so it’s a completely different paradigm. Until the federations stop this nonsense of wanting to control the whole damn world we will never get anywhere in basketball in SA. That Mugabe style model just doesn’t work anywhere in the world, not even in CHINA, the pinnacle of a ‘successful’ communist/protectionist state! i dare Joe to take me up on that one. Let’s have a heated debate – as long as their is non-violent adult communication there will be progress…..

    btw – This is my personal view and in no way reflects an ‘official’ statement from Uhuru nor Hoops Africa.