Johannesburg, South Africa, home to the first NBA game on African soil back in 2015 and host of the Basketball Without Borders Africa camp where 80 boys and girls come to learn life lessons while hooping it up with some of the world's best current players and legends.
As the 15th edition of BWB Africa is getting ready for it's second NBA Africa exhibition game on Saturday, it's also a time to reflect on the many children (17 and under) from 26 African countries who have had the privilege to be a part of the once in a lifetime experience. Since 2001, BWB has reached more than 2,780 participants from 134 countries, including 46 campers (9 from Africa) that have been drafted into the NBA.
Seminars that focus on health, leadership and communication, along with basketball related activities throughout these camps have made a difference on African society. There was clear evidence of that when the first ever NBA game played on the continent in 2015, saw Hall-of-Fame players Hakeem Olajuwon (born in Nigeria) and NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo (Republic of Congo) both checked into the highly anticipated game, creating unforgettable moments for those that witnessed it.
Taylor Sharp, who's a producer of an upcoming documentary Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters, wanted to share his experience working with Hoops 4 Hope, a non-profit organization which works closely with the BWB camps, that helps kids use basketball as a tool for everyday life.
"This story has always been meant to be told," said Sharp. "In 2013, after an incredibly powerful three months volunteering with Hoops 4 Hope in Zimbabwe, I boarded my South African Airways flight home. I was seated next to Dan Hedges, a documentary filmmaker whom I had never met. Dan and I made a vow that we would one day return to Africa to bring my stories to life for viewers everywhere, creating a platform to spotlight the influential work that organizations like Hoops 4 Hope provides for so many children every day."Dan Hedges, who is director and cinematographer on the Hoops Africa project, talks about what kind of story he and Sharp hope to tell on film.
"The story that's being told is a dynamic one," Hedges explained. "It tells a story of young basketball players with big dreams, the development of the game on the continent and how basketball makes a huge, positive impact on so many people across Zimbabwe and beyond."Hedges recalls the moment when he and Sharp met for the first time, putting the wheels in motion for their documentary to get made
"I had a layover in South Africa and my neighbor on that 16-hour flight [home] happened to be Taylor Sharp," said Hedges. "We talked that whole flight about his experiences volunteering in Zimbabwe and my experience as a filmmaker."Two-years later, Sharp and Hedges found themselves not only returning to Zimbabwe but also covering the first ever NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg and interviewing the likes of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Chris Paul, Dikembe Mutombo, Luol Deng, Serge Ibaka, Luc Mbah A Moute, Bismack Biyombo, Gorgui Dieng, among others.
The film also focuses around the concept of the African philosophy; Ubuntu, which if you're an avid Celtics fan, you should be familiar with. Almost a decade ago head coach Doc Rivers, who was also interviewed for the documentary, introduced the term at the start of the Celtics 2007-08 training camp to a championship starving group of veterans ready to embark on a year full of promise in Boston.
As the Celtics prepared to travel overseas before the start of the regular season for a couple of exhibition games, coach Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the rest of the roster bought in to Ubuntu mantra; "I am what I am because of who we all are," resulting in a NBA championship nine months later.
The Ubuntu philosophy not only helped the 2008 Celtics win on the parquet, but it also helped develop camaraderie and a brotherhood off the court, which players like Pierce, Sam Cassell and Brian Scalabrine can attest to in the film.
Rivers, now coaching for the Los Angeles Clippers, still speaks about how special that 2007-08 campaign was for him and that Celtics team.
Hoops Africa is a documentary about the importance of learning life skills through basketball and how the growth of the game has shaped the continent by creating hope for a better future.
Taylor Sharp and Dan Hedges wanted to tell a story about Africa that many knew little about and with their film, they look to change that.
To find out more info on the forthcoming documentary Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters, click here
Photos used courtesy of Hoops Africa's Instagram account