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NBPA in South Africa: Experience of a Lifetime

Basketball is more than a game.

That was the focus of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation’s weeklong journey through South Africa in July. Three student-athletes joined NBA stars like Chris Paul and the Gasol brothers for a community service trip to positively change the lives of kids on and off the court. In a three-part series for, the lucky student-athletes share their experiences as part of the trip. They detail how they used the game they love to connect with the children of South Africa, how touring the country inspired them, and why bringing the NBA to Africa is a game-changing move.

The first entry comes Zaniya Lewis of Edgewater Park, New Jersey. The 17-year-old is a point guard and co-founder of The Kindness Project (a community service club that facilitates school-wide service activities). She gives us the rundown of all the exciting sights that she and her fellow student-athletes experienced.

July 28 — Our first sightseeing trip was to the Cradle of Humankind. It’s a sprawling site in Johannesburg where one of the earliest human-like fossils was discovered.  We learned about the development of humans and our ancestors during our time there. We also went into the Sterkfontein Caves, in the Cradle of Humankind, which are made of limestone. We saw crystals in the caves as well. Exploring the caves was really long, but fun. We had to get low to the ground to reach different parts, but I had a blast.  

July 29 — We went to the Lion Park with the Basketball Without Borders campers. We saw lions, zebras, and cheetahs. My favorite animals in the lion park were the zebras. I love the zebras’ skin and how they are relaxed.  I never saw a zebras in real life and I’ve never been so close to the animals before. It was also great to learn about how the animals eat and sleep — male lions sleep about 20 hours a day!

August 1 — We went to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. As we walked into the, I could feel the sense of hope that every South African talks about. Before our tour, we had a beautiful ceremony dedicated to Masai Ujiri, the general manager of the Toronto Raptors and the director of the Basketball Without Borders organization. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory dedicated a plaque in his honor. What a cool way to be recognized! As I looked around the room, I saw tears in everyone’s eyes because Masai Ujiri is a prime example of hard work and dedication. After this beautiful ceremony, we toured the center. We saw Mandela’s office, which was so incredible, as well as his letters, gifts, and his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. I was so honored to be able to see that award. “Listen up kids, do something great for humanity and this could be you receiving this,” a member of Basketball Without Borders told us. I’ve watched videos about Nelson Mandela before, but to actually experience the Centre and learn what he was really about and how he grew as a man was wonderful. 

August 2 — We visited the Apartheid Museum, which was really sad. Right when we walked into the museum, we were given cards. The cards read Non Whites or Whites. We all entered the museum by what our card said.  The museum took us on an emotional journey of racial discrimination in South Africa and the struggle towards democracy.  We watched videos about the Apartheid movement and toured the Nelson Mandela part of the museum. At the end of that segment, we were able to look at his most famous quotes. The quotes represented characteristics of Mandela.  Each quote had a color that represented Mandela’s characteristics. For example, I chose green, which represented leadership. At the end of the museum, our guide told us that sports was a big part of uniting South Africa. They were so grateful that the NBA decided to play the first NBA game on Africa soil in South Africa. For the U.S., this NBA game might just look like a regular game. But for South Africa and the rest of the African continent, this game meant the world to them.

The museum ended with putting a rock in the pile. This tradition symbolizes the end of your journey. The feelings for me were overwhelming. As I placed the rock in the pile, tears started to roll down my cheeks. I started to remember the journey in South Africa — how I was able to put so many smiles on the children’s faces and how they were happy to see us. 

In addition to the tours, we witnessed campers, who were involved with the NBPA service projects, improve their game with help from NBA coaches and players. Near the end of the week, 20 campers were put on teams and competed against each other. The game was exciting dunk after dunk. The guards dished the ball like they were Chris Paul and Trey Burke. The forwards played like Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, who were also on the trip. What a great way to finish off a wonderful week in South Africa.

I am so grateful to have been selected to go to South Africa with the NBPA. The trip inspired and motivated me even more to keep changing the world. I hope this trip inspires others to follow their dreams and give back to their community, too. I encourage every kid to follow his or her dreams. Remember: You are never too young to make a difference in the world!

Photos: National Basketball Players Association

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