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 SIKIDS.com, 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 final entry comes from 14-year-old Marriotsville, Maryland, native Jason Murphy, who plays center and spearheads an annual backpack drive for his local Boys and Girls Club. Jason looks back at the All-Star game that concluded this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
When the email arrived selecting me as a winner of the National Basketball Players Association’s contest inviting student-athletes to South Africa, I was very excited. I would be going to the first NBA basketball game on the continent of Africa. I was also going to meet All-Star Chris Paul — who is the Players Association president and one of my favorite players — along with numerous other players. That was enough to make the trip awesome. But there was so much more, that I didn’t even consider. Ultimately, the trip exceeded my expectations in every manner.
I traveled halfway around the world with my mom. After arriving in Johannesburg, we saw the interesting sights of South Africa on my way to the hotel. I couldn’t really sleep on the first night. Maybe it was due to fatigue from the long flight. It could also have been that I was really excited to meet the players and learn more about the exciting things I’d be doing all week.
The first player I met, just walking around the lobby of our hotel, was Luol Deng of the Miami Heat. Deng is from South Sudan and served as the captain for Team Africa for the All-Star game. The NBA had devised two teams of NBA players: Team World and Team Africa. Team World consisted of many players from the U.S. or other countries. Team Africa was composed of NBA players from Africa or had parentage from Africa.
Over the next 24 hours, I met all of the players and was able to work, coach, perform community service, eat, and just generally hang out with some of the most elite athletes in the world. I was also in the company of many great NBA coaches and general managers.
One of the most exciting parts was my participation over the next few days as a coach for Basketball Without Borders. The program brings together some of the top African teen players from several countries, allowing them to experience coaching from American players and team personnel. They also learn valuable life skills. My role was to help conduct drills and coach the players. Even though they were a couple of years older than me, I was able influence them with my organized basketball experiences. My coaching partners included Washington Wizards point guard Bradley Beal. I was in a unique position where I could learn from Bradley and the NBA coaches, while teaching the other players.
While instructing these players, I was learned that even if we don’t have the same traditions, speak the same language, or come from the same backgrounds, the universal language of basketball is something that translated to everyone in the gym. During my coaching experience, I noticed that the players may not have had every skill needed to play, but they had the desire and the will to do whatever was required of them to get better at the game they love. That is something I really related to.
The grand finale of our trip was the NBA Africa game featuring Team Africa vs. Team World. I will admit that I was patriotic during this game and openly rooted for Team World, which featured the players from the United States. But the game was such an exciting show that the winner really did not matter. Team World eventually won, 101-97, but the real winners were the continent of Africa and game of basketball.
The game’s most exciting and poignant moment was when two retired legends of the game and most impactful players from Africa who had amazing careers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, entered the game and played for several minutes. The crowd went crazy. I was able to meet and chat with both of those legends, which was also one of my highlights.
This trip gave me the experience of a lifetime and opened up opportunities for me even beyond the game of basketball. While I have worked very hard to become the best player I can be at each stage of my development, going along to South Africa with the NBA Players Association was truly the definition of basketball being more than a game.
Photos: NBA Players Association
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