Why NBA Players Visiting Ghana Matter

By Selasie Apeadu, Summer Intern

Hosting two distinguished NBA players was an amazing way to start my second day interning at the US Embassy. Participating in basketball like every other sport improves one’s health; enhances self-esteem; builds skills for resolving conflict; increases academic success; and, perhaps most importantly, promotes teamwork. Moreover, Serge Ibaka and Gorgui Dieng, two international basketball players from Africa, demonstrated that apart from promoting hard work and dedication, the NBA is also about serving as role models and mentors to inspire the youth. “These are important efforts that build bridges and partnerships from the United States to Africa”- Ambassador Cretz highlighted.

Serge and Gorgui came to Ghana to work with aspiring Ghanaian basketball players, and represent the NBA’s efforts to promote basketball in Ghana and Africa as a whole. Serge Ibaka, Congolese, currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA. Gorgui Dieng, born in Senegal, currently plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Serge Ibaka was born in Brazzaville and when asked by an 8-year-old about what inspired him to play, he shared that both his parents played and encouraged him. Ibaka moved to Spain and played with second division basketball clubs. He mentioned that in Spain he used to struggle to understand Spanish. Often got confused when his coach gave instructions to the team. When asked if he struggled with language in America, he noted that at first it was almost impossible to understand his coaches. Wisely, he decided that to become a better player in Spain he had to speak Spanish and to be a better play in the US he needed to improve his English, so he taught himself these important languages. This decision might have seemed trivial at the time, but who ever thought that this would be a foundation step in his career? We can infer from this that no matter how small a decision may be, if it is towards a positive gain then you have to pursue it.

Gorgui has a similar story about the importance of education. Gorgui attended the Sports for Education and Economic Development (SEEDS) Academy in Thies, Senegal; his academic scores were stunning. His talent and effort earned him an invite to “Basketball Without Borders” camp in South Africa, as one of a selected few promising players from across Africa. He was offered a scholarship to Huntington Prep in West Virginia. He arrived with no ability to speak English. At Huntington Prep he proved himself once again to be as academically impressive as he was athletically gifted. During his Embassy remarks, encouraged everyone to be “life learners” and noted he hopes to pursue a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. one day. Gorgui’s life represents hard work and a constant desire to be better than the ordinary. As celebrated sportsmen, they are good mentors that our youth can and should look up to.

Gorgui and Serge are both making efforts to support basketball players in Africa. They are in Ghana to guide and mentor the next generation of Ghana’s basketball players. They hope to promote basketball in Africa to be as competitive as it is in the US. The two NBA stars, NBA Africa and Coca-Cola Ghana have partnered to visit coaches and basketball players in selected high schools. A few may be selected to participate in the next “Basketball Without Borders” and hopefully be able to follow a similar path. It will be great to include NBA level players to Ghana’s list of exceling sportsmen such as Dede Ayew and Asamoah Gyan. We are very thankful for their selflessness and demonstration that the NBA is about more than just a game.

In addition, encouraging basketball will strengthen the ties between the United States and Ghanaians. There’s no better topic to laugh and jeer about than sports, as already many of my colleagues tell me stories of the 2014 World Cup banter they enjoyed when the Black Stars of Ghana played Team USA in the preliminary round in Brazil. Ghana has played football matches against the United States on more than one occasion; these few encounters brought a common link between the two countries. Basketball is more dominant in the United States than it is in Ghana. However, I believe that if Ghanaians get to play basketball with the U.S., it will also serve as an additional bridge that connects Ghana and the US.

To a large extent this visit promotes Africans to be successful in their respective fields. Gorgui and Serge said, “If we were able to achieve this success, then why can’t you do the same.” Ghanaians should take lessons from these global icons and draw inspiration from them.

Fellow Ghanaians, let’s look forward to a brighter future with the help of basketball.