A contingent of current and former NBA players have spent the past week in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of the league’s annual Basketball Without Borders clinic. But this year’s edition of the event is special in that it includes the NBA’s first-ever officially sanctioned exhibition game on the content of Africa. The game features a team of African NBA players including Luol Deng, Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo against “Team World,” which features the likes of Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, Marcus Smart and the Gasol brothers.
Fans in South Africa got an extra surprise during the game on Saturday: two of the most legendary African players in NBA history, and two of the most important ambassadors for the sport in Africa, suited up along with the current players. Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and second all-time leading shot-blocker Dikembe Mutombo checked into the game in throwback Rockets and Nuggets jerseys, respectively:
Olajuwon scored on the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic using his patented “Dream Shake”:
And Mutombo got a stop against the Jazz’ Trey Burke:
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said this week that it’s only a matter of time until the NBA plays a regular-season game in Africa. This exhibition game is just the first step in that direction. But it was cool to see two legends in action alongside current players helping to grow the sport all over the world.
Report: Serge Ibaka not yet cleared to play after March surgery
That’s a little concerning, though it shouldn’t cause panic for a couple reasons:
1. There’s still plenty of time before training camp opens.
2. Ibaka’s originally scheduled return was right around playoff time. There should be a higher standard of clearance for an exhibition game than a postseason game. It’s unclear whether Ibaka could play if this contest had higher stakes.
Still, it’s obviously not great news that Ibaka isn’t cleared.
The Thunder have been sidetracked in recent years by injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Ibaka isn’t at their level, but his defense and floor spacing means a lot to Oklahoma City. Ibaka is just a tick below All-Star level.
If everyone is healthy, the Thunder should contend for a championship. Once again, though, the status of at least one of their top players is in doubt.
At least, this time, it’s in the summer rather than spring.
Matt Barnes may not be with the Clippers anymore, but he hasn’t forgotten his old team’s battles with the Thunder — and some of the questionable plays made by Thunder forward Serge Ibaka. In a radio appearance in his new home of Memphis, Barnes didn’t mince words, outright accusing Ibaka of being a dirty player.
"He's just dirty" – Matt Barnes on Serge Ibaka. "…He hit Blake in the nuts twice."
Putting aside the question of whether Matt Barnes has any room to call another player dirty, he has a point about Ibaka’s history with Griffin. Here’s the groin shot from a regular-season game in 2013:
And here’s the one from Game 4 of the Clippers-Thunder second-round series in 2014:
The first time the Thunder play Barnes’ Grizzlies next season is going to be fun.