Editors Note: This story first ran on June 25, 2013, when Nelson Mandela -- who passed away on Thursday at the age of 95 -- was fighting a lung infection.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela is currently in a critical health condition. And as the world turns its attention toward one of the great men of the last 100 years, his legacy will find renewed appreciation. A new angle. In a sense, new life. The full spectrum of his impact will come back into view -- including a strand sometimes overlooked: Mandela's belief in the power of sports.
One of the most remarkable moments of Nelson Mandela's passion for sports happened exactly 18 years ago. He had just become South Africa's first black president of the post-Apartheid era and he was determined to use sports as a way of uniting a segregated country. And on June 24, 1995, he strode onto the field at Johannesburg Elis Park stadium in an emblematic No. 6 green Springbok shirt and was subject to a standing ovation from a capacity crowd before the kick-off of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.
South Africa won their first World Cup that day, following a 15-12 win over New Zealand All-Black team. After the title, Mandela presented the trophy to then-South African captain François Pienaar, who called the victory as a win not only for the 62,000 fans present at the stadium, but for "All 43 million South Africans."
Nelson Mandela (R) shakes hands with NBA player Marcus Camby at the 2005 Basketball Without Borders event.
In the aftermath of his contribution to sports, and on a number of occasions, Nelson Mandela poetically spelled out one of the most symbolic speeches in sports history.
"Sport" he said in the speech, "has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
When, due to failing health, Mandela was last seen in public, the occasion was the 2010 Football World Cup held in South Africa: the biggest sport event staged in Africa.
But among all sports, basketball has always held a special place for Mandela -- as much for the game itself as basketball's ability to affect what happens off the court. Since the inception of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders (BWB) programme in 2003 in Johannesburg, South Africa, several basketball personalities (executives, players, head coach, campers, etc) have met Mandela, and discussed the the value of basketball in disadvantaged communities. Designed to help support poor communities through its NBA Cares projects, BWB's ambitions dovetailed with Mandela's.
Now, with Mandela fighting a lung infection in a Pretoria hospital, his wife Graça Machel by his bedside, it's the great man who needs our support.
Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa, visited Madiba (Mandela's clan name) last Sunday. On Monday, Zuma met the media to say that "All of us in the country should accept the fact that Madiba is now old. As he ages, his health will... trouble him and I think what we need to do as a country is to pray for him."
Mac Maharaj, Mr Zuma's spokesman, told the BBC on Sunday: "I think there is need to be sombre about the news. There is a need not to hold out false hopes but at the same time let's keep him in our thoughts and let's will him more strength," he said.
For his belief in sports, what Madiba really needs at this difficult moment of his life is a worldwide standing ovation of encouragement.