7 Africans who played in the NBA
There have been plenty of African players who have graced the courts of the NBA, many of whom enjoyed incredible success, while others not so much. Despite a lack of development, basketball is growing in popularity here and should the right funding be put in place, perhaps we could have our own local NBA legend to cheer on. Until then, here are some of the most famous (and one not so famous) Africans to have played pro basketball in the world’s most lucrative league.
Diop is a Senegalese legend who played in the NBA for 11 consecutive seasons between 2002 and 2013. He was the first ever African to be drafted straight out of high school, and he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks (twice), New Jersey Nets, and Charlotte Bobcats. Diop’s first team, the Cavaliers are an uncertain prospect without one Lebron James in their ranks this season, with NBA odds on them making the playoffs changing almost on a daily basis. Although he never quite hit the heights of his Mavericks playing days while at Cleveland, we’re sure they’d like someone of Diop’s caliber on the bench right now.
Dieng is another Senegalese, but unlike Diop, the 29-year-old is still playing. He was picked by Utah Jazz in 2013, and immediately traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since then, he has enjoyed a great time on the court earning over $2million per season and averaging eight points per game throughout his career. The Wolves aren’t doing too well in the Western Conference this season, with Dieng their one shining light.
Now we’re coming out of left field here to bring you the only Ghana-born player to have ever played in the NBA. Benjamin Bentil was selected by the Boston Celtics in 2016 and signed a professional contract. He played a few pre-season games before he was sent off to the Indiana Pacers. A trip to the development league followed by a stint in China came before a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks landed in his lap. He played three games in the NBA before leaving to play in France, then Spain, and now Greece. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll see him in the US again.
At 7’7 Bol was the second tallest player ever drafted by the NBA. The Sudanese giant enjoyed a thirteen-year professional career that saw him play for four teams. An interesting fact about Bol is that he is the only player in NBA to average more blocks than points. He was an impenetrable wall and is rightfully remembered as one of the game’s all-time best defensive players.
A refugee from Congo, Ilunga-Mbenga was discovered in Belgium and started his professional career in his adopted nation. And in July 2004 he signed a huge two-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks but an injury-riddled season saw him play very few games. He had a spell with New Orleans Hornets and was signed and waived by the Golden State Warriors. But it was his spell at the Lakers that was the best of his career. He won two championship rings and is one of only two Africans to do so.
If you know your NBA, then you will have seen the old footage of Dikembe wagging his finger after blocking four shots in a row. It was an iconic moment in NBA history and one that defined his 18-year career as an incredible defensive player. The Congolese shared the court with the likes of Rodman, Jordan, Yao Ming, and Lebron James. As far as African NBA players go, Dikembe is one of the most famous and highly regarded with his number 55 jersey retired by two of his former teams.
Hakeem’s humble shoe from his 1988-89 All-star season
When it comes to successful African players, there is only one name on any NBA fan’s lips; Hakeem Olajuwon. The Nigerian-born player who was once a talented young soccer player. It is reckon by Flaming Hairdryer that he played 1,238 games, scoring an incredible 26,964 points and making an all-time record of 3,830 blocks. Hakeem was everything that young African basketball players aspired to be. He was a tough no-nonsense center who played with his heart and won respect across the globe for his amazing skills. His 12 All-Star appearances are the most of any African player, and he is the other player on our list with two championship rings that he won with the Houston Rockets.
Benjamin Bentil gave us hope that we would see a Ghanaian player in the NBA, but that hope was short-lived. While he is certainly a good player, he was unlucky not to have made more of his chance at the Mavericks. Hopefully, in time, we’ll have our own Hakeem, but with little government backing for basketball in the country, it’s a long shot. We can still dream though, right?