Anal­y­sis: A global NBA now has a truly global cham­pion

The Saline Courier Weekend - - SPORTS - As­so­ci­ated Press

OAK­LAND, Calif. — The Cana­dian flag, soaked in beer and cham­pagne, was waved in the Toronto locker room. Pascal Si­akam wore the flag of Cameroon around his shoul­ders. Marc Ga­sol was yelling some happy phrase in Span­ish.

Ev­ery team that wins an NBA ti­tle calls it­self “world cham­pi­ons.”

These Toronto Rap­tors might ac­tu­ally be wor­thy of the moniker.

The new kings of the NBA are the first out­side the U.S. to wear the crown. And they come from all cor­ners of the globe.

Team Pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri was born in Eng­land and raised in Nige­ria. Serge Ibaka is from the Congo. Ga­sol will play again for his na­tive Spain this sum­mer in the FIBA World Cup. Coach Nick Nurse won his first cham­pi­onship in Bri­tain, where re­serve OG Anunoby comes from. Even the team’s su­per­fan, Nav Bha­tia, comes from In­dia. It’s a global game.

It’s a global team.

They’re the global cham­pi­ons.

“It meant a lot, just hav­ing guys from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages,” Si­akam said. “I think it kind of got us closer to­gether. And you kind of have all those lit­tle kinds of friend­ship with guys that you can speak the same lan­guage with, and from Span­ish to French to English, dif­fer­ent cul­tures. I think kind of it rep­re­sents Toronto in gen­eral, hav­ing that di­ver­sity.”

He doesn’t even have the whole list.

Jeremy Lin, an Asian Amer­i­can, speaks Man­darin. The assistants on Nurse’s staff have back­grounds from stints as play­ers or coaches in France, Eng­land, Ger­many, Italy, Aus­tralia, Is­rael and more. The di­rec­tor of sports sci­ence is Scot­tish. The head trainer is from On­tario. Ja­maal Ma­gloire, who has been on the staff since his play­ing days ended, is a Toronto na­tive.

“It means a lot,” Ma­gloire said as he watched cham­pagne spray all over the locker room. “Canada and Toronto es­pe­cially are very di­verse places. And this team, all the di­ver­sity that we have, it served us well.”

There’s a pa­rade — Ujiri said it was sched­uled for Mon­day, though he also wasn’t ex­actly cer­tain at the time — com­ing to Toronto. The red and white flag with the gi­ant maple leaf will wave. There will be plenty of other flags there as well. And more than a few proud Amer­i­cans will be on that route as well, like NBA

Fi­nals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the long­est-tenured Rap­tors player, Kyle Lowry.

“I’m very happy for them,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, tip­ping his cap to the Rap­tors. “Win­ning a cham­pi­onship is the ul­ti­mate in this league, and they have got a lot of guys who have earned this. So con­grats to Toronto, to their or­ga­ni­za­tion, to their fans. They are a wor­thy cham­pion.”

At NBA head­quar­ters in New York, they truly didn’t care who won the se­ries.

That doesn’t mean they don’t re­al­ize the Rap­tors’ ti­tle is a good thing for the league’s fu­ture.

Bas­ket­ball With­out Bor­ders is the ve­hi­cle that ba­si­cally helped Si­akam start his jour­ney to the league seven or so years ago. There are NBA acad­e­mies pop­ping up in Africa and Asia. The league is help­ing to es­tab­lish a new pro league in Africa that’s set to be­gin play early next year. The sport takes ev­ery op­por­tu­nity it gets to pro­mote what it bills as the Jr. NBA Global Cham­pi­onship, a tour­na­ment for kids.

NBA Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver said be­fore the se­ries that the league is aware of 700 mil­lion cell­phones be­ing in use in Africa, more than half of those be­ing smart­phones. The NBA wants peo­ple watch­ing on those phones, and the in­fra­struc­ture is such now in many places that it is ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble.

“It’s been revo­lu­tion­ary in terms of the peo­ple of Africa’s abil­ity to watch our games in real time on hand-held de­vices,” Sil­ver said. “So we see enor­mous growth op­por­tu­ni­ties both in terms of play­ers and for par­tic­i­pa­tion and ul­ti­mately an in­ter­est for the league.”

Hav­ing cham­pi­ons from Cameroon and the Congo, hav­ing the ex­ec­u­tive who gets cred­ited for put­ting it all to­gether be­ing from Nige­ria, it’s not go­ing to hurt the game in Africa one bit.

The NBA cham­pi­ons are, in­deed, cham­pi­ons of the world.

“As a kid, I didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to dream about this mo­ment,” Si­akam said. “I didn’t think I could make it. I didn’t think this was pos­si­ble as a kid. And I think a lot of kids don’t think that it’s pos­si­ble. Just me be­ing able to be here to­day and telling them that, ‘Hey, look at me, I was a lit­tle scrawny kid from Cameroon ... but here I am, as a cham­pion.”

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