MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra got on the telephone and apologized for having a raspy voice. He’s had a lot to say in Africa.
The Miami Heat coach has been part of a sizable group of NBA players, coaches, and executives in Johannesburg this week for a Basketball Without Borders camp for kids, all building up to Saturday’s second edition of the NBA Africa Game that will benefit charities like UNICEF and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
“The first meeting that we had here, it was overflowing,” Spoelstra said from South Africa this week. “There weren’t enough tables and chairs to fit everybody in here. You’re seeing some of the icons in the league that are in this ballroom, here to help, here to help grow the game, but here to help create more opportunities for kids on this continent. It really is just an honor to be part of this and it’s a humbling experience.”
For the game, Team Africa will be players who were either born there or second-generation — a list that includes Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha, Bismack Biyombo, Clint Capela, Gorgui Dieng, Joel Embiid, Serge Ibaka, Luc Mbah a Moute, Salah Mejri, Emmanuel Mudiay, Victor Oladipo and Dennis Schroder.
Team World ‘s lineup includes Dirk Nowitzki, Kemba Walker, Leandro Barbosa, Jaylen Brown, Wilson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry, CJ McCollum and Kristaps Porzingis.
“I just think there’s so much potential here on this continent,” Nowitzki said. “You’re getting the best out of it. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
The first NBA Africa Game was in 2015, when Deng played for Miami and was coached by Spoelstra. Deng, a native of South Sudan, came back loaded with stories about his experience and Spoelstra’s interest was more than piqued — so much that he didn’t think twice about flying the 8,000 miles from Miami to Africa for this.
He also said seeing the work that NBA icon Dikembe Mutombo and Toronto executive Masai Ujiri have done in Africa compelled him to be part this time.
“I just want to be able to give and serve,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a great game that we all feel so grateful for. I’ve done a lot of the NBA programs in the Philippines and other places in South Florida, but I’ve always wanted to be a part of BWB in Africa. I’ve always really admired Dikembe and Masai and everybody who’s done so much great work over here. I just wanted to be a part of it and offer my services for the week.”
NBA coaches and players have been working the BWB camp, running games and offering instruction.
“This is, to me, a dream come true as a young African player that grew up here dreaming about the NBA, dreaming about coming to Basketball Without Borders,” said Biyombo, an Orlando Magic player who hails from the Congo. “And when I see all these kids, the look on their face, the excitement on their face, it’s beyond amazing.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association head Michele Roberts are also expected to attend Saturday’s game.
Spoelstra has been involved in many NBA events before in his mother’s homeland, the Philippines. He said he continues seeing global growth in the game and understands the value the programs provide.
“The kids that are here at camp, they’re really so grateful that so many different NBA personnel are over here: players, coaches, front office executives, NBA personnel, over here just to help,” Spoelstra said. “I think the NBA’s done a tremendous job creating programs and academies to give kids from over here opportunities they didn’t have before.”