Batum Ready to Represent Team Africa
One of the Newest Hornets to Play in First NBA Game in Africa
By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com
Nicolas Batum has suited up in many different jerseys in his professional career. He donned a Trail Blazers uniform from 2008-15 while playing in Portland, laced his shoes up for the French national basketball team at the 2012 Olympics, helped lead the French Eurobasket squad to a silver medal in 2011 and gold in 2013 (which he’ll help his country defend in 2015), was a key piece for France as it won the bronze medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and will put on his second NBA uniform when he takes the court for the Charlotte Hornets for the first time this season.
Still, it might be the jersey Batum puts on for a 9 a.m. (EST) exhibition slate on August 1, 2015 at Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg, South Africa that will cause him to take pause. That’s because Batum will be taking the court for Team Africa against Chris Paul’s Team World squad in the first NBA game to ever take place in Africa. The matchup will air live on ESPN.
“This is huge for us and huge for me,” Batum stated about the importance of an NBA game being played in Africa. “I grew up in France, played for the French team and am French, but my dad is from Cameroon. I’ve got roots in Cameroon and family in Cameroon, so for the first time in my life I’ll be able to experience the pride of playing in a jersey with Cameroon on it. My family and I are proud about that. It’s a special thing for me.”
Team Africa is comprised of players born in Africa and second-generation African players and features team captain and two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng(Miami Heat; Great Britain; born in South Sudan), Al-Farouq Aminu (Portland Trail Blazers; U.S.; parents from Nigeria), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks; Greece; parents from Nigeria), Bismack Biyombo (Toronto Raptors; Democratic Republic of the Congo), Boris Diaw (San Antonio Spurs; France; parent from Senegal), Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves; Senegal), Festus Ezeli (Golden State Warriors; Nigeria), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder; Congo)*, and Luc Mbah a Moute (Sacramento Kings; Cameroon).
They’ll take on Team World, comprised of players from the rest of the world, featuring team captain, NBPA President and eight-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers; U.S.), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards; U.S.), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets; U.S.), Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies; Spain), Pau Gasol(Chicago Bulls; Spain), Jeff Green (Memphis Grizzlies; U.S.), Marcus Smart(Boston Celtics; U.S.), Evan Turner (Boston Celtics; U.S.) and Nikola Vucevic(Orlando Magic; Montenegro).
But make no mistake about it, Batum and his teammates aren’t just viewing this as an exhibition game. They look at it as a must-win game to show the rest of the world that African basketball is alive, well and making an impact.
“We want to win it even if we’re winning already by just being here,” said Batum. “We want to start a new tradition where Team Africa has to win this game. We’re going to play hard. We’re going to have fun and have some good moments – but we want to win.”
The sold-out NBA Africa Game 2015 will be played in support of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Africa, SOS Children's Villages Association of South Africa and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The game will take place following the 13th edition of Basketball without Borders (BWB) Africa, the NBA and FIBA's global basketball development and community outreach program that has reached 1,000 campers from 31 African countries since 2003.
“Africa has a lot of potential,” said Batum. “If you watch the young guys over here during these camps, its crazy, because these guys have what it takes to be good basketball players. They’re tall, they’re physical, they’re athletic – they have everything. This continent has a ton of young talent and is very special.”
This trip to Africa isn’t just about what’s happening on the court, but off it as well. As part of BWB and NBA Africa Game efforts, NBA Cares, the league's global social responsibility program, and the NBPA Foundation will host a series of events to leave a lasting legacy in the community. From Jr. NBA Clinics to Hoops 4 Hope life and skill sessions, to the newly built Boys & Girls Club at Protea Glen’s dedication and basketball clinic, Batum and his teammates will have multiple opportunities to give back to their country of origin.
“We have a chance to play in the NBA, to play in the best league in the world and to live the good life, even if it’s only for a minute. That’s why we have to give back to these kids,” Batum explained. “It’s important for us to give back, especially in Africa, because these are our roots. To be able to spend time with these kids is nothing but a positive.”
And who knows? Maybe Batum’s experience and excitement about returning to Africa will inspire a young man or woman who might one day be the game’s next pioneer. And on that day, maybe like Batum, that person will look down at the name or flag that represents them on their jersey and realize the impact they’ve been able to make across the globe through the game of basketball.