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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.

7 mins ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspend the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Chargés d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and non-essential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten embassy's ability to assist Americans.