In the first-ever NBA game on the continent of Africa, Team World overcame a 20-point deficit to defeat Team Africa 101-97 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday.
The Manute Bol Most Valuable Player award was shared by Team World captain Chris Paul, who scored 12 points, and Team Africa captain Luol Deng, who netted 20, as seen in this photo courtesy of the NBA's official Twitter account:
Elsewhere on the court, Milwaukee Bucks phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 22 for Team Africa, while the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal paced Team World with 18.
Those four represented their teams admirably, but the true highlight came when 52-year-old Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and 49-year-old soon-to-be Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo briefly entered the game in the second quarter.
Prior to the highly anticipated exhibition, Antetokounmpo spoke on the importance of the NBA's foray into Africa, according to Kevin Scheitrum of NBA Global:
It means a lot for the NBA, but first of all it means a lot for the African people. I can see how excited all these people in South Africa are for this game. I heard it was sold out in nine minutes, and it means a lot moving forward for people out here to see how the NBA works and for a lot of kids here to be here.
When play began, there was no shortage of excitement, as both teams decided to run the floor and play loosely on the defensive end. That made it feel somewhat like an NBA All-Star Game.
Team Africa was comprised of players who were either born in Africa or have at least one parent who was born there. That limited its roster options, Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin pointed out:
Even so, the African squad boasted a few players with solid ball-handling skills who ended up playing the point, including Antetokounmpo, new Charlotte Hornets star Nicolas Batum and San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw, who was playing for his NBA head coach in Gregg Popovich.
That arrangement seemed to work for Team Africa, but it also featured plenty of fast beaks in both directions, like this one finished by Team World and Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, courtesy of the NBA's official Twitter account:
Team Africa was in control throughout the first half, but the game was more about entertaining the fans than winning or losing, and the African side certainly accomplished the former goal in the second quarter.
Much to the surprise of those in attendance and watching around the world, Olajuwon and Mutombo checked into the game, as seen in this Vine from the NBA:
There was plenty of excitement surrounding the entrance of two of the greatest players in NBA history and two of the most influential African athletes of all time, as evidenced by this tweet from Nick Gryniewicz of ESPN Orlando:
Much of that was due to nostalgia, and while both players have lost a few steps over the years, they are still 7-footers with plenty of ability.
Mutombo grabbed four rebounds in his couple of minutes on the floor, while Olajuwon registered a block and knocked down a sweet basket with his signature "Dream Shake":
Team Africa entered halftime with a comfortable 56-38 lead, but most importantly, the crowd was buzzing.
Among those who were captivated by the game and its significance in Africa was Manchester City and Ivory Coast soccer star Yaya Toure:
Fellow footballer Victor Anichebe of Nigeria agreed and pointed out the significance of the NBA's playing a game in Africa:
A Team Africa win seemed like a foregone conclusion entering the second half, but CP3 was unwilling to go down quietly. He confidently knocked down three-point field goals on three straight possessions in the third quarter to pull Team World to within nine points.
Despite that impressive run, Team Africa regrouped and carried a 77-62 advantage into the fourth and final frame.
The CP3-led Team World continued to fight, and thanks to a 14-0 run to start the fourth quarter, Team Africa's lead was whittled down to just one point.
After Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli knocked down a free throw to extend the lead to two, Beal nailed a trifecta to put Team World on top for the first time in the game, at 79-78.
Team World quickly stretched its lead to 10 points, with Beal and Memphis Grizzlies forward Jeff Green knocking down shots from beyond the arc. Deng, meanwhile, did everything he could to keep Team Africa in the game with some sharpshooting of his own.
In the midst of all this, Popovich stepped aside from his coaching duties to allow one of his most trusted players to draw up some plays for Team Africa:
The teams continued to play a run-and-gun style for the remainder of the game, but Team Africa's lack of backcourt players proved to be the difference, as it couldn't keep up with Team World's three-point barrage in a 101-97 defeat.
While the players with African roots didn't win on home soil, they may have done something far greater by helping spread awareness and popularity with regard to the sport of basketball in Africa. Many African players have made it to the NBA and enjoyed success thanks to the league's commitment to making that a reality, but many others haven't had that opportunity.
The NBA Africa Game got more eyes on the sport of basketball than ever before in Africa, and it could prove to be a seminal moment in the NBA's continued efforts to globalize the sport.
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