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Officials attend the announcement of the the NBA-backed Basketball Africa League at the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, July 30, 2019. Play finally gets underway May 16, 2021. Photo AFP


KIGALI, RWANDA - The first game of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) tips off on Sunday in Rwanda, and fans of the sport say they hope the new league, and playing host to the games, will shine a spotlight on African players and help promote the sport in Africa.

Competition was to have begun last year but was put off in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday, finally, Rwanda's Patriots will face off against Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers at Kigali Arena, which will host all the games.

Some Rwandan basketball supporters lament that required coronavirus testing will prevent them from being able to attend the games at Kigali Arena. But many will be cheering from a safe distance.

Arnold Nkusi, 21, plays for the Rwandan military-funded APF, or Army Patriotic Front Club. A former student in the U.S. state of Texas, he said he thinks the BAL is "a great step for African teams. They can show how they are good in their talent."

"In the past years," he said, "we haven’t had time to, like, to show our potential and everything. So now it is a good opportunity, especially that it is happening in Rwanda. Now our players will be looked at so we can have scouts and agents coming in to watch our players play and have opportunities to play abroad.”

The BAL is a partnership of the U.S. National Basketball Association and the Geneva-based International Basketball Federation (FIBA). It's the NBA's first effort to launch a league outside North America.

Rwandan basketball emerged only in the last couple decades, but the national team has qualified a few times for the FIBA AfroBasket, another continent-wide tournament. 

Stratton Ahimana, president of Rwanda’s Association of Basketball Umpires and a member of the technical committee in Rwanda’s Basketball Federation, said the umpires he leads needed to attend to see the level of officiating at this tournament so they can share knowledge and experience with their colleagues.

Cliff Owor, head coach of the APF club, said Rwandan and other African teams that compete in this league will benefit a lot, especially coaches and players who will gain experience through these games.  Although it comes amid COVID-19 and a difficult period, he said, the experience they will gain is priceless.

VOA will simulcast BAL games in English and French and provide play-by-play coverage in Bambara, Kinyarwanda, Wolof and Portuguese. - Alex Ngarambe, Voice of America

Photo Getty/Kevork Djansezian


American rapper J. Cole is expected to suit up and play for the Rwandan Patriots BBC in the Basketball Africa League, according to multiple reports. A source told SportsCenter is expected to become official on Thursday.

The musician will play three to six games as one of two non-African players on the Patriots' roster alongside former North Carolina State University basketball standout Brandon Costner, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. 

J. Cole, who was born Jermaine Lamarr Cole, is a musician and songwriter with his own label, Dreamville Records. On May 4, the rapper announced that his next album, "The Off-Season," will be released on May 14, just two days before he's expected to play in his first game as a professional basketball player.

Despite being mostly known for his lyricism and becoming a platinum-selling artist with no features, J. Cole's love of basketball has been chronicled extensively. The musician, who played two years of varsity in high school, told Sports Illustrated in 2013 that he tried out for St. John's University's basketball team while he attended the school, but did not attend the second day of walk-on tryouts in order to pursue his musical aspirations.

The rapper's basketball talents were placed under the national spotlight in 2012 when he participated in the 2012 ESPN All-Star Celebrity Game and became one of the first celebrities to ever dunk in the festivity. 

Rapper and former professional basketball player Master P said in 2020 that J. Cole was considering trying to earn an NBA contract, leading to the Detroit Pistons offering him a chance to try out for their roster.

The rapper has also been seen holding his own in pickup games against NBA veterans and stars such as CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, Trae Young, and JR Smith. - Madison Hall, Insider

Ruth Chepngetich won the Istanbul Half Marathon by 38 seconds

Ruth Chepngetich sprinted away from Ethiopia's Yalemzerf Yehualaw across the final stages to win the Istanbul Half Marathon and set a new world record; the 26-year-old beat the previous record, set 14 months ago by Ababel Yeshaneh, by 29 seconds

Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich smashed the world half marathon record on Sunday, clocking a time of 1:04:02 at the N Kolay Istanbul Half Marathon to shave 29 seconds off the old mark.

The 26-year-old, a winner in 2017 and 2019, sprinted away from Ethiopia's Yalemzerf Yehualaw across the final stages of the race to win by 38 seconds and beat the previous record set by Ababel Yeshaneh in Ras Al Khaimah in February last year. 

Kenyan Hellen Obiri a two-time world 5,000m champion finished third with a time of 1:04:51 - the fastest debut half marathon in history - to mark the first time three women finished inside 65 minutes in one half marathon. 

Kibiwott Kandie of Kenya won the men's race in a time of 59:35. 

Kandie, who set the world record in Valencia last year, raced into the lead with about 12 minutes remaining and held off the challenge of compatriot Geoffrey Kamworor to claim victory by three seconds, with Roncer Kipkorir taking third place. Reuters/Sky Sports

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