Once a year on the playgrounds of Abidjan, which is the largest city in the Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), some of the most talented basketball players in the world play in a basketball tournament named Game 225. Over two days, a minimum of eight teams matchup to see which team will be crowned champion.
Not Familiar with the Ivory Coast?
The Ivory Coast is one of the wealthier countries in West Africa. Currently, it is a country whose economy is driven primarily by agricultural products, as it is the world's largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans and a significant producer and exporter of coffee and palm oil.
However, it is rapidly moving away from its dependence on agriculture. Since 2006, oil and gas production have become much more important engines of its economic growth.
Haven’t Heard of the Game 225?
The Game 225 was started by Carlo Vieira, who is a private banker who currently lives in France. Mr. Vieira’s love of basketball began in his youth when he was a basketball player growing up in the Ivory Coast. He later left his country to complete his studies in France.
However, the Ivory Coast and basketball are still very important to him. For example, Mr. Vieira volunteers his time as the general manager for the Ivory Coast’s national basketball team.
A few years ago, Carlo Vieira got the idea to develop an annual tournament in the Ivory Coast. The main objective of the tournament is to help develop the basketball skills of the children of the Ivory Coast, and someday other countries in Africa.
Vieira reminds that “Africa is a different way of life” when compared to the way people live in many other places of the world. Many in the Ivory Coast live a very challenging life. And not surprisingly this extends to those who wish to play basketball as there aren’t “the facilities in Africa.” This is one of the many complications that contributes to the challenge of teaching children how to play “real basketball.”
Mr. Vieira began the tournament by inviting mainly college players from Europe and the United States. He expanded further by inviting current and former NBA players, particularly those from one of the African countries. For example, he mentioned Luc Mbah a Moute, who is originally from Cameroon and currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, and Stephane Lasme, who is originally from Gabon and has played for the Miami Heat.
His hope is that the invited NBA players will agree to conduct basketball clinics for children during the week prior to the tournament. Vieira hopes that through the NBA players investment of time they will “teach the children how to play” while utilizing proper techniques.
In addition to Vieira’s goals of educating children on the fundamentals of basketball he wants to entertain the audience with talented basketball players. As Vieira said, it is “not only a basketball tournament, it is a show.” To aid in the overall entertainment value of the event he added a dunk contest which featured both African and international dunkers.
The Game 225 dunk contest featured two Americans: Kenny Dobbs and Troy McCray. In fact, Dobbs is expected to participate in the 2010-11 Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown at the NBA All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.
The Game 225 tournament is not just about education and entertainment; it also has a more serious objective, as well. The Ivory Coast is “divided politically into two parts, north and south," according to Vieira. Due largely to political conflicts, it's people often live life separately.
The 2010 Game 225 tournament, played earlier this year, served as “the first time that a team from the North played in a basketball game in the South,” Vieira said. Vieria hopes that the Game 225 tournament can be a small step towards “reunifying the country.”
The tournament itself does not generate money to sustain itself, as it is still in it's early phases. Initially, Vieira was the sole investor behind this project. Earlier this year he and his team, which currently consists of 10 individuals, were able to secure sponsorship from MTN, a wireless provider based in South Africa with operations in the Ivory Coast. Vieira, however, still remains as the primary financier behind this annual event.
Vieira hopes to one day make the Game 225 a worldwide tournament and the biggest basketball clinic. He also hopes that it will serve as a showcase for talented players to connect with college and pro scouts who are searching for talent.
Vieira and his organizing committee invited the best youth players to play a two game tournament. He also invited French agents “to watch this tournament so that they can find talent and take to France.” His goal is to “invite more youth players and scouts.”
He also wants to promote his home country and, by extension, the continent of Africa. Vieira wants everyone to discover the Ivory Coast, which is one of the wealthiest countries in Western Africa. He also hopes that his tournament will allow people to experience the people, the culture and the way of life within Africa.
To illustrate, Vieira told a story of how he and Kevin Kemp, an American, “went to eat fish.” He said, “It was the first time Kevin saw a ‘real fish’ and ate it with his hands.” He mentioned Kemp’s surprise that the fish was served with the head and bones intact. He also described Kemp’s surprise that the cultural norm was to eat the meal with your hands and not with a fork and knife.
An additional objective that Vieira has is for the non-African participants and attendees to experience Africa by way of the tournament. Vieira also wants all to see that “they have good teams in Africa.” He proudly states that the Ivory Coast national team, of which he is the general manager, performed better than some thought at the FIBA World Championships. With pride he pointed out that they even beat Puerto Rico—which had a couple of NBA players on its team.
Vieira believes that within the various African countries they have physically talented players, who are on par with any in the world. What they are lacking is good coaching which leads to “good technical play.” They are also lacking the facilities, as few stadiums exist today and most basketball games are played on playgrounds.
2011 Game 225 Tournament
The 2011 Game 225 tournament is scheduled for July 30 and 31, 2011 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Vieira said that he expects a minimum of eight teams, four of which are from the Ivory Coast. They’ve also invited teams from Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon and Senegal.
Beginning in January, the Game 225 organizers will begin sending out DVDs to help advertise the July tournament. In addition, Vieira plans on attending the NBA All-Star game to talk with players about potentially participating. He also expects to do a promotional tour during the month of February to promote the tournament.
How Do Interested Teams Sign Up for the Tournament?
Vieira said that there are no restrictions on who can play in the tournament. The tournament is open to both professional and non-professional athletes. He suggests that anyone interested in participating should visit the website, www.game-225.com, to sign up or to receive more information.
The winning team will receive a trophy as well as prize money totaling $2,000. While this may not sound like a tremendous amount of money, it is actually a very large sum within the Ivory Coast, which roughly equates to XOF 944,300.