Dieng Gives Back Through 'Live, Learn and Play'

Wolves center Gorgui Dieng returned to his native Senegal last month to help kids develop a love for basketball and learn valuable life skills through the sport as part of the "Live, Learn and Play" initiative.
NBA Africa/Facebook
by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Wolves center Gorgui Dieng fondly remembers participating in Basketball Without Borders in South Africa. Back then at age 19, Dieng was a young, raw talent with a soccer background that was just getting to know the game of basketball, and during that particular event in Johannesburg he had an opportunity that just might have changed his life forever.

At Basketball Without Borders, Dieng got a chance to meet NBA All-Stars like Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. He learned from them, listened to what they had to say and, at the end, got words of encouragement that helped him further understand he had what it takes to potentially be an NBA player himself one day. Howard, in particular, told him in 2009 he would one day see Dieng playing in the league.

Last year, that prophecy came true.

“The game here [April 11 vs. Houston] when I made the last shot, if you watch him, you can see [Howard] came, he left the bench and came all the way to the middle just to say, ‘Great job and just keep working,’” Dieng said. “I think people like that have a great, positive mind to just help the young players in the league.”

Now, Dieng is trying to help the next generation learn to love the game.

Dieng spent time in May back in his native Senegal as part of the NBA and U.S. Agency for International Development’s joint initiative “Live, Learn and Play.” The event created an opportunity for NBA players like Dieng to reach out to children in Africa and try to implement values of leadership, character and teamwork while promoting youth development and citizenship in 20 different high schools.

He and WNBA legend/Senegalese native Astou Ndiaye worked together during the venture, which began May 7 in Dakur, Senegal, at John F. Kennedy High School.

“Live, Learn and Play” uses basketball and the values of the game as a forum for teaching life skills and promoting leadership for boys and girls ages 13 to 15. It also includes a comprehensive coaching development element with a curriculum designed by the NBA and implemented by the Sport, Education & Economic Development (SEED) Project, which Dieng also participated in as a student.

While in Senegal helping with the “Live, Learn and Play” project, Dieng spoke with the kids about his journey and what it takes to be successful—whether it’s in basketball or other profession in life. He couldn’t help but think about what it was like for him seeing Howard when he was younger and the impact it made on his life.

“I used to just see the people on TV, and one day they’re right in front of you, and they’re trying to teach you the game,” Dieng said. “And I take full advantage when I was there, trying to learn everything. That built my confidence and made me believe that I could one day be a pro.”

That was his message to the kids during his month in Senegal.

“Just to learn, learn the game,” Dieng said. “That is the most important part. Just to learn the game and respect your elders. Because when Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh came, I was just paying full attention and listening to what they were saying because they had more experience than me. I think if you do that, that will help you in the long run.”

With “Live, Learn and Play,” the object is to apply those lessons to basketball or life in general. NBA Vice President for Development in Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall, said in a press release that implementing basketball and the values associated with the game help develop future leaders who will be able to positively influence youth development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dieng, who was once one of those kids, is now giving back in that same manner.

Since Hakeem Olajuwon was drafted in 1984, there have been 30 players from Africa that have been featured on NBA rosters. Through NBA Cares, 37 places to live, learn or play have been created in Africa, and Basketball Without Borders has been held in Africa 11 times.

Players like Dieng have followed a tradition that began 30 years ago and continue to give back. It makes you wonder who will be next to follow.

“’Live, Learn and Play’ is a great program to help the Senegalese community—helping the school, building basketball courts and have some clinics to help teach the kids and the coaches,” Dieng said. “So I think it’s a great program for the Senegalese people, and I think if anybody gets the chance, learn anything they can.”