NBA players eager to hold first-ever exhibition in Africa

MIAMI -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and four players with a combined 17 All-Star appearances, including Heat forward Luol Deng, will be part of the NBA's first-ever exhibition game in Africa next month.

After nearly a year of planning and recruiting, the league has finalized the two teams that will compete in the NBA Africa Game 2015 on Aug. 1 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The game will be broadcast live by ESPN and benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and other youth charities in the country.

"A lot of players from Africa and all over the world work so hard to make it to the NBA so they can represent their country with pride," said Deng, who spent time last season recruiting NBA players to participate. "Now, to finally have a chance to bring the game we all love home to Africa ... it's hard to really explain how much that means. It will impact people the rest of their lives."

The NBA is expected to formally announce the rosters this week. The event, to be held at 5,000-seat Ellis Park Arena, is a sellout, the league confirmed.

Deng, who was born in Sudan, is the captain of a team of NBA players who are first- and second-generation descendants of families from Africa. Joining the 11-year veteran on Team Africa are Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (Congo), Toronto's Bismack Biyombo (Democratic Republic of Congo), Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, Portland's Al-Farouq Aminu and Golden State's Festus Ezeli (Nigeria), Charlotte's Nicolas Batum and Sacramento's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Cameroon), and San Antonio's Boris Diaw and Minnesota's Gorgui Dieng (Senegal).

Popovich, who has coached the Spurs to five NBA titles, will coach Team Africa against a team of NBA stars from the rest of the world. Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul leads a Team World roster that also includes Chicago's Pau Gasol, Memphis' Marc Gasol and Jeff Green, Washington's Bradley Beal, Denver's Kenneth Faried, Boston's Marcus Smart and Evan Turner, and Orlando's Nikola Vucevic. Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins will coach Team World.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and league legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo will also have roles in the game and preparations for the surrounding events.

The NBA first revealed plans for the game during a Basketball Without Borders camp and NBA Cares event in Africa last summer. The rosters began to take shape during the February All-Star break, when Deng and Paul committed to be captains for the respective rosters that were being formed. Many of the players, coaches and executives involved in the exhibition have participated in camps and events over the years that have benefited charities in Africa.

"When I heard about the NBA Africa Game, I jumped at the chance to participate," Pau Gasol said in a statement. "The continent of Africa has a special meaning for me through my Foundation. I look forward to putting on a great show for the fans and taking part in activities in the local community."

When Deng gauged interest, particularly of African-American players during the season, he mentioned that they might not truly grasp the influence they have on African youths until they visit the continent and experience the connection firsthand. Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, will be making his first trip next month to play and contribute to a week of sponsored events leading to the game.

The exhibition showcases the NBA's growth in Africa, which has produced more than 35 players on team rosters since Olajuwon, from Nigeria, was drafted No. 1 by Houston in 1984. The NBA opened an office in Johannesburg in 2010 and annually holds camps and clinics throughout the continent.

"It's a historic event," Paul said recently of the NBA Africa Game. "I can't wait to be a part of it."