Stevens, Turner Leave Their Mark in Africa
The sport of basketball has provided Brad Stevens with opportunities to travel the globe, enabling him to learn about foreign cultures while spreading his vast knowledge of the game.
The Celtics coach spent this past week nearly 8,000 miles from Boston, as he and Celtics guard Evan Turner joined roughly two-dozen NBA players and coaches on a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa.
On Saturday, the pair represented Team World in the first-ever NBA game on African soil. Stevens served as an assistant to Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins on the Team World squad, which featured Turner and a variety of NBA stars, including Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, and the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau.
They narrowly defeated Team Africa, 101-97, which consisted of first- and second- generation African players, including Luol Deng, Nicolas Batum and a couple of Hall of Fame legends, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.
Stevens and Turner were honored to be included among the few who took part in the historical game, but it was the days leading up to the exhibition that provided the most impactful experiences for the Celtics representatives.
On Friday, the pair made an appearance at an SOS Children’s Village in Ennerdale, approximately 20 miles south of Johannesburg. While at the village, which is home to a number of orphaned children, they, along with other members of the league, took part in the unveiling of a new library and basketball court.
It was a humbling experience for Stevens, who caught up with Celtics.com on the phone, while bussing back from the village.
He reflected that the South Africa trip as a whole “is not necessarily about boosting [the NBA] brand. It’s about helping. And I think that led by [NBA] Commissioner [Adam] Silver, led by his office and led by the executives and coaches and players … I think that’s where the impact is.”
It was an eye-opening experience for Turner, as well, who got on the phone after Stevens.
“Growing up in America, we’re blessed with a lot,” said Turner.
“I was blown away by how appreciative and grateful and good-spirited the kids were.”
It was an appreciation that they had also witnessed during days prior to their trip to the small village.
They spent Wednesday and Thursday participating in clinics that were attended by local Johannesburg high school students.
"It’s really incredible to see how [basketball] impacts not only me, but everybody else in that room," Stevens said in reference to those who attended the clinics. "It’s a common thread between all of us and something that we all love and all have a great deal of passion about and an interest that we all share, so it was great to get a chance to work with those kids."
Stevens later added, "It is absolutely awesome to be here and watch the kids’ eyes when Hakeem Olajuwon walks by. Or when Dikembe Mutombo is around or Luol Deng, and how inspiring they are to the kids [who] love basketball here.”
That love was on display during Saturday’s highly anticipated game.
Ellis Park Arena, which seats 4,300-plus – and reportedly sold out in 19 minutes – was packed with spectators, as Team World took on Team Africa.
Stevens’ Team World squad was down 77-62 entering the fourth quarter, but his fellow Celtic helped lead a furious comeback.
Turner filled the box score with 14 points, seven rebounds and a game-high eight assists, serving as the team’s facilitator, just as he did for the C’s for much of last season. He made a handful of key jumpers and highlight-reel passes during the closing minutes, as Team World rallied to a 101-97 win.
But the biggest win of the trip was the lasting impression the NBA representatives left upon the nation of South Africa.
“The NBA, the players that are over here, have been terrific working with the kids, [being] active with the kids, being at all the different events, and just like me, learning,” said Stevens.
“Learning about Johannesburg, learning about South Africa and really getting a great opportunity for all of us to see the world.”
It was also an opportunity for the NBA to spread its game to a corner of the world that it had not yet reached, and Stevens and Turner left a mark over there that they, and those impacted, will forever cherish.