No matter what country you come from, no matter what religion you practice and no matter what kind of food you eat…basketball is basketball. It's something that's able to transcend all boundaries and bring all types of people together.
Since about 1990, the NBA has seen a steady influx of international players. On opening night of the 2010-11 NBA Season, 28 of the league's 30 teams featured at least one international player. And yes, some teams buried their international contributors at the end of their benches, but some—like the Toronto Raptors—made a living off of non-native basketball talent.
Today, the league has over 75 international players, many of whom make important contributions to their ball clubs. And for good measure, let's recall that the NBA's reigning Finals MVP, Dirk Nowitzki, is among them.
Today's NBA fans are probably familiar with the likes of NBA success stories from the African continent. Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) and Dikembe Mutombo (DR Congo) are household names, while current standouts like the Thunder's Serge Ibaka (Republic of Congo) and the Bulls' Luol Deng (Sudan) continue their productive careers.
But what about the journey? What about the struggle? The heartbreak? The obstacles?
Sure, we've seen documentaries from the likes of Sebastian Telfair and LeBron James, but we haven't seen one quite like Elevate.
Elevate is a basketball documentary produced and directed by Anne Buford, the sister of the San Antonio Spurs General Manager, R.C. Buford.
After almost seven years, Elevate is ready to rise.
It's a story about four young Senegalese men whose ambitions to one day play in the NBA prove to be anything but easy. After the Denver Nuggets made Mamadou N'Diaye the first Senegalese-born NBA player to be drafted when they selected him 26th overall in the 2000 NBA Draft, Senegal has become a territory frequented by basketball scouts from all levels.
The following year, in 2001, N'Diaye's fellow countryman DeSagana Diop became the first Senegalese-born lottery pick when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him eighth overall.
Four years later, the Seattle Supersonics made Mouhamed Sene the 10th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.
Now, the stars of our documentary hope to one day follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
Three of the four stars of our documentary—Assane Sene, Dethie Fall and Byago Diouf—are each 16 years of age. Aziz N'Diaye, the fourth, is the oldest at 17.
From the Senegalese capital city of Dakar to New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon and Idaho, Elevate is a story about connecting dots and illustrating the power of the game of basketball to transcend cultural differences.
Amadou Gallo Fall, a Senegalese national, played collegiately at the University of the District of Columbia until he graduated in 1997. Since then, he has dedicated his life to giving other Senegalese players an opportunity to use basketball as a tool to empower themselves and their communities. Fall worked for the Dallas Mavericks for about 12 years. During his tenure, he founded Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal (SEEDS).
So, as you'll see in Elevate, the NBA aspirations of our young stars are not rooted in selfishness and ego. It's actually about utilizing the game of basketball to overcome poor life chances, give back to their community and make positive contributions.
Today, Fall serves as the vice-president of development for NBA Africa, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Although he has moved on from the Mavericks, the mission he began with SEEDS continues. Only now, on a much larger scale.
All in all, Elevate is a good documentary that shows viewers first hand: Basketball isn't always just basketball.
If you're looking for something to take your mind off the 2011 NBA lockout, check out Elevate. It's a refreshing watch for those who love the game of basketball, not just the NBA.
Moke Hamilton is a Featured NBA Columnist for Bleacher Report and the NBA Salary Cap Analyst for SNY's TheKnicksBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the NBA.