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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The NBA has spent the last 25 years importing a surge of international talent — now it hopes to benefit by exporting the brand those global stars have helped build.

Why it matters: The NBA's attempt at operating a league outside of North America (they hoped to do something similar in China, but it failed) is part of a long-term plan to make the NBA synonymous with competitive basketball around the world.

Driving the news: The Basketball Africa League (BAL), a 12-team circuit operated by the NBA and FIBA, just unveiled its logo and held its first scouting combine ahead of a March 2020 launch.

  • Background: The NBA has hosted Basketball Without Borders camps throughout Africa since 2003, opened an official league office in South Africa in 2010 and built a training academy in Senegal in 2017.
  • How it works: The inaugural BAL season will feature 12 teams from across the continent, and all games will be played in seven host cities: Cairo, Egypt; Dakar, Senegal; Monastir, Tunisia; Rabat, Morocco; Lagos, Nigeria; Luanda, Angola; Kigali, Rwanda (playoff host).

Between the lines: The BAL will strengthen the NBA's talent pipeline in Africa, which has already produced over 80 current and former players, including 2019 MVP candidates Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam (both from Cameroon). It will also help foster a more robust basketball landscape in Africa itself.

  • "[Players] will no longer just dream of going abroad," Assane Badji, operations manager at the NBA Africa Academy, told NYT. "Instead they will stay, dream of playing in a big competition here, and value themselves."

The big picture: The NBA is far from the only American sports league with global ambitions, but is perhaps the best positioned to expand internationally.

  • The NFL has a worldwide presence, but football remains primarily an American sport. And while the NHL and MLB have lots of international talent, hockey and baseball aren’t nearly as popular around the world as basketball is.
  • Even soccer, the world’s most popular sport, doesn’t have a singular brand that stands head and shoulders above the rest like the NBA does in basketball.

Yes, but: As evidenced by the backlash to Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey's pro-Hong Kong tweet in October, global expansion comes with risks..

The bottom line: Given Africa’s history of producing basketball talent and its huge youth population, the BAL presents a unique opportunity for the NBA to grow.

  • But thanks to the league’s declining TV ratings in the U.S., the timing isn’t ideal. What may have once been viewed as a smart business decision might now be viewed as a distraction from the problems it faces at home.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Aug 5, 2020 - Sports

Brooklyn Nets pull off biggest NBA upset in 27 years

Rodions Kurucs (L) and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. Photo: Ashley Landis/Pool/Getty Images

The Nets pulled off the largest NBA upset in 27 years on Tuesday, beating the Bucks, 119-116, in a three-point shootout, despite missing their nine best players.

By the numbers: Brooklyn closed as consensus 19-point underdogs thanks to a makeshift roster that featured just one player, Garrett Temple, with more than four starts this season.

DOJ watchdog to probe whether officials sought to alter election results

Donald and Melania Trump exit Air Force One in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 20. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department's inspector general will investigate whether any current or former DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election, the agency announced Monday.

Driving the news: The investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times report that alleged Jeffrey Clark, the head of DOJ's civil division, had plotted with President Trump to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen in a scheme to overturn the election results in Georgia.

2 hours ago - Podcasts

Google's chief health officer Karen DeSalvo on vaccinating America

Google on Monday became the latest Big Tech company to get involved with COVID-19 vaccinations. Not just by doing things like incorporating vaccination sites into its maps, but by helping to turn some of its offices and parking lots into vaccination sites.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into what Google is doing, and why now, with Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google's chief health officer who previously worked at HHS and as health commissioner for New Orleans.