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Out of Africa: the NBA’s Biggest African-Born Stars

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Think of Africa. Think of sport. Put the two together and you can think of some amazing athletes. Africa simply has a talent for producing them, whether it’s soccer, basketball, athletics or other sports. Liverpool soccer star Mo Farah: Egyptian. World marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge: Kenyan. NBA Phoenix Suns center-forward Bol Bol: Sudanese. 

In the world of athletics, Africa has become especially prominent, with North Africans excelling in middle-distance events and East African athletes really showcasing their strength in the long-distance ones. In the 21st century, African women really began to make their presence felt in events and strike fear into the hearts of competitors, such was their prowess.

One sport that has embraced the promise of African athletes and created opportunities for them to become stars is basketball. Below is a look at some of Africa’s biggest stars in the world’s biggest sporting organization, the NBA, and at why African athletes are so good. 

What makes African athletes so good? 

Biological advantage is a thorny topic, especially in athletics, and there is discussion of whether a link exists between genetics and the quality of African athletes. Some scientists have conducted research that they believe proves Kenyan athletes, for instance, have “genetic programming” that allows them to run faster for longer than some other athletes. Others dismiss theories around genetics and athleticism in African athletes. 

One thing may be true and that is that the shape of the bodies of some athletes may be better suited to some sports. Some Kenyans have been found to have thin calves and ankles, which lends itself to better performance in long-distance running. There have been marathons in which Kenyans have not just occupied all the top three placings, but some of the immediate placings afterwards.  

Another reason, besides the training and hard work of the athletes, may be mental strength. Some observers have suggested African athletes may have the extra mental toughness required to push on even in the most challenging circumstances in the sporting arena. 

Amazing African players in the NBA

Amongst the many outstanding athletes Africa has produced are several NBA stars. Below are some of the best. When placing a bet on the NBA, you may wish to consider how they’re performing:

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid is a center forward for the Philadelphia 76ers and is a formidable force for his team. He was born in Cameroon, is 30 years old and is 7 feet tall. In the 2023-24 season, he has averaged 35.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. In January, he showed just how much of a titan he was by clocking up more 40-point games than six of the NBA’s top stars combined. Embiid is difficult to guard against and some small improvements to his game have made him even harder work for opponents. His jump shooting his good. His mid-range shoot has gotten better. Even without free throws, he can become a dominant shooter.

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Bismarck Biyombo

Bismarck Biyombo was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and originally cut his basketball teeth in Spain before coming to the NBA in 2011. The Congolese center joined the Oklahoma City Thunder in February 2024, but has played with the Charlotte Hornets, the Toronto Raptors, the Orlando Magic and the Phoenix Suns. Before joining the Thunder he was with the Memphis Grizzlies, but the club later waivered him. 

Although there are some major flaws for Biyombo to iron out, his game has much improved. He appears to have corrected an eagerness to do too much and doesn’t go beyond his capabilities on offense. He’s a strong and reliable rebounder, something the Thunder will hope to capitalize on as their opponents have a habit of winning the rebounds. His defensive game is also high quality.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is another main man for his team and is of Greek-Nigerian origin. Antetokounmpo ranked 11th on Forbes 2023 list of highest paid athletes, thanks to earnings of $87.6 million. The player’s wingspan is an asset to his game, allowing him to move the ball from place to place easier without having to move his feet or change his center of mass. He also possesses quantities of lean muscle and levels of core stability more typical of smaller players which also help his game. The muscle enables him to generate more force and the core stability affords him an aerobatic ability to dribble the length of the court and get up in the air for rebounds. 

The NBA has proven an excellent sports organization for African basketballers to make their name. Other stars from the continent in the NBA include Phoenix Suns center-forward Bol Bol (Sudan), free agent and former Memphis Grizzly Wenyen Gabriel (South Sudan) and Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam. 

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