Basketball: NBA stars to play in Johannesburg in first Africa game

NEW YORK (AFP) - The National Basketball Association (NBA) announced plans on Wednesday for its first game in Africa, an August exhibition that will feature basketball players from the continent in the latest effort to develop the league's global fan base.

The Aug 1 match in Johannesburg will pit Team Africa, consisting of first- and second-generation NBA stars from Africa against Team World, composed of players from other regions.

Two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng of the Miami Heat, who was born in what is now South Sudan, will lead Team Africa, while eight-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers will captain Team World.

The announcement comes as the US league unveils its annual calendar of overseas games for 2015-2016. The NBA has already announced games in Brazil, China and Mexico.

The format of the Africa game differs from most other NBA overseas contests, which typically feature two NBA teams duking it out in a regular or pre-season match.

The Johannesburg venue, the Ellis Park Arena, with about 6,300 seats, is considerably smaller than arenas like the O2 in London and Ulker Sports Arena in Istanbul that hosted games in the 2014-15 season.

Sal LaRocca, president of global operations and merchandising for the NBA, said the league is "still at the very early stages" of developing Africa as basketball market.

"Every territory that we have developed our business in, has at one point or another started with a game," he told AFP.

"So this is a kind of pivotal point in our development in Africa."

Football is by far the most popular sport in Africa, and rugby and cricket have a large following in South Africa.

The NBA has offices in 12 international markets. The biggest is China, where it employs about 130 people in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The league opened its Johannesburg office in 2010 that now has 11 employees who oversee programs throughout the continent.

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