Basketball is one of the most popular sports on the continent of Africa. Since its introduction in the 1960s, the sport has become a favourite amongst youngsters and is regularly played competitively in schools, as well as recreationally outside of school.

NBA teams and players are popular amongst the younger citizens of African cities. As this influence from the NBA has permeated African culture.

Growing popularity

Arguably, one of the drivers behind this popularity of the the NBA in African countries is that many players from the continent have made it to the top levels of basketball in the United States. For example Nigerian born, Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon played for both the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets, winning two championships and two Finals MVPs with the latter.

Olajuwon has been credited with being a pioneer, later encouraging other African players to push for careers with NBA teams.

Hakeem Olujuwan signing autographs. Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.

Reaching new audiences

To capitalise on this growing popularity, the NBA is attempting to increase its presence on the continent, as part of its wider expansion plan that has seen it also reach out to Europe, China and India. Part of this plan is to create excitement and demand for basketball, which it has attempted to do by holding one off games, with a game in London in 2019 and South Africa in 2018.

The next part of this plan is to provide better access to the game for fans in these countries, by improving coverage of the games. In the UK, and several other territories, this has meant a partnership with satellite broadcasters like Sky Sports. However, in Africa it has taken a different approach, opting to stream the games over the Internet instead.

Initially this deal has seen two live NBA games streamed exclusively through YouTube each week for viewers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The NBA playoff games will also be streamed on the African YouTube channel, with the finals to be held in mid June. Ahead of this, odds comparison website Oddschecker has been tracking the latest developments to offer top playoff picks.

The new YouTube channel will also show other basketball content, including documentaries about NBA players born in African countries including Olajuwon and Congolese player Dikembe Mutombo. Streaming games through YouTube seems to make sense in a region where satellite TV is significantly less popular than in North American and European countries.

The future?

Given that the NBA has hosted four sold out games in South Africa in recent years, and that the sport is becoming ever more popular, it is safe to assume that its influence will continue to grow.

The NBA has huge resources and has a strategy to expand outside of its traditional geographic base, so further use of YouTube streaming is almost certain.