Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The NBA announced plans Saturday for its first professional league outside North America -- a 12-team basketball league in Africa -- in conjunction with FIBA
The new league, which will be called the Basketball Africa League, or BAL, is scheduled to begin play in January 2020, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in Charlotte, N.C, the site of the All-Star Game..
"The Basketball Africa League is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa," Silver said in a statement. "Combined with our other programs on the continent, we are committed to using basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa."
The league will be built upon existing team competitions FIBA has been organizing in Africa.
The NBA and FIBA will conduct qualification tournaments later this year to identify the 12 teams that would represent several countries, with no more than two teams from any single nation. They include teams in Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
The NBA and FIBA also are lending financial support and resources for training for players, coaches, referees and infrastructure.
"On FIBA's behalf, it's a huge joy to see our partnership with the NBA enter unchartered territory as we work together for the first time to maximize the potential of professional basketball in Africa," Andreas Zagklis, the secretary general of FIBA, the world governing body for basketball. "This is a natural extension of what we have done through the joint initiative that is Basketball Without Borders."
The NBA has a league office in South Africa, an academy in Senegal and facilities in several other nations.
"The establishment of the Basketball Africa League is another exciting milestone for the NBA in Africa," said Amadou Gallo Fall, vice president and managing director for NBA Africa. "Having a top-flight professional basketball league in Africa will provide a platform for elite players to showcase their talent and inspire more young boys and girls to play the game."
Thirteen African-born players were on opening-night NBA rosters this season, Spots Max reported.
"I was the first player to ask commissioner Silver to come to Africa," Dikembe Mutombo, a Democratic Republic of the Congo native and Basketball Hall of Famer, told The Undefeated. We were trying to find a way to grow the game on the continent. Now, the commissioner made it happen with the league. No more just going and playing a [exhibition] game. This is great."
Mutombo said at the luncheon the announcement was a "dream come true."