The third NBA Africa Game was held in Pretoria, South Africa this summer. Eighteen NBA players participated in the exhibition as part of Basketball Without Borders, the NBA’s outreach program that helps promote the sport around the globe. The game was played in support of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, embodying his belief that sports have the power to inspire and change the world. Players and participants spent the week involved in basketball camps, youth leadership programs, the second NBA Africa Innovation Summit, and various community service projects for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Hoops for Hope.
This was deeply personal for Joel Embiid, the star center for the Philadelphia 76ers, because he was discovered at a Basketball without Borders camp in Africa in 2011. Embiid paid homage to South African icon Nelson Mandela, whose legacy, 100 years after his birth, was celebrated by the NBA.
'Madiba,' as the former president was known, was a strong advocate for the power of sport to change lives, and Embiid said that he felt it was his duty to give back in memory of Mandela, and to use his fame and wealth to help those who need it, either through the game itself, or through other charitable efforts. Embiid said of Mandela: "He did a lot of great things, which I appreciate a lot. Now me being in that position, I'm in a position where I'm able to give back. I have to give back because of the people that paved the way for us."
Embiid was a visible and enthusiastic presence throughout the trip, chatting and laughing with fellow players and the camp attendees, and was clearly having a great time, dunking on Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo, and joking around with the kids.
As for his own enjoyment of the week in Johannesburg, the 7-foot player recalled his own excitement at being allowed near NBA players when he was a 'camper' in 2011, and he's happy to give youngsters today that same fulfillment.
When asked if this week made him feel nostalgic for his own camp days, Embiid said: "Yeah, it's fun for me. I think as long as God allows me, as long as my schedule allows me, that's something I want to do every year, just come back and give back. When I was in that situation, I felt great being among NBA players. I wanted to learn from them. I wanted to touch them because I was so amazed by them.” Of course, Embiid realizes his unique story and situation and understands that there are more children like him. “I feel like we have a lot of talent, undiscovered talent, that can have a chance just like I did. They just need an opportunity.”