May 10, 2021: Marc J. Spears of ESPN (article here) writes that "Rapper J. Cole is expected to play for Rwandan side the Patriots BBC in the inaugural season of the Basketball Africa League..." - This is the first announcement in North America that the world-famous, Grammy-award-winning rap star Jermaine Cole, known as J. Cole would be playing in the Basketball Africa League. An unprecedented move by the Grammy-award-winning musician to turn to professional sports, as typically professional athletes will venture into the music industry, not the other way around; You don't just "venture" into the world of professional sports as an athlete, it just doesn't happen. But beyond athletics, this hold enormous implications for the profile and awareness of the league, mainly because of J. Cole's level of worldwide superstardom from his music career.
What Is The Basketball Africa League?
This is the inaugural season for the Basketball Africa League, which is a partnership between the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), and the National Basketball Association (NBA). This partnership fostered the creation of a new professional league which features 12 teams from across the African continent. This year, the league is hosted in Rwanda for the 2021 season, likely due to travel bans caused by Covid-19. Teams qualified by either winning their respective national titles (Ex. Rwanda Patriots BBC qualified because they won the Rwanda national title).
The fact that this is a brand new league, coupled with both the lack of a unified professional league across Africa (many smaller club leagues) means that the entire continent of Africa has an opportunity to take interest in and grow the game of basketball. The reason that J. Cole joining the league is such an important occurrence because he brings with him a massive North American fanbase. North Americans, particularly those in the United States are consistently purchasing J Cole's merchandise, records and attempting to interact with him through social media. These fans will likely tune into at least one game that he's playing in, just to see their favorite rapper play professional basketball. If these people tuning in also happen to be basketball fans, it is entirely possible they will begin to watch the BAL more which will only help grow the reputation and following of the league itself.
The Money Factor
Beyond this, the Rwanda Patriots BBC will likely earn a significant amount of money from merchandise sales just from this signing alone. J. Cole has exclusive merchandise that is sold on concert tours that is sold out nearly every single show, and coveted by collectors. The likely influx of orders of J. Cole jerseys will bring awareness to the team and league when the merchandise (specifically jerseys) are worn in public in North America. On Instagram alone, J. Cole has 6.7 million followers. Now lets assume that 100 super fans and collectors will purchase 1 Rwanda Patriots BBC jersey (just for a nice, round number) - the average jersey price in the United States for an authentic NBA jersey is $139.99 USD, and the jerseys cost less than half of that to produce, so if the team profits 60% from the sale of 100 jerseys, they will profit just over $6,800.00 USD (rough estimates based on unconfirmed jersey costs). This is a huge amount of money for a brand new league, and one can imagine there are more than 100 people who would buy this jersey.
A Growing Audience
Anytime a global superstar does something people are going to take notice, news outlets will talk about it, social media will talk about it and people will talk about it in everyday life. The great thing about this is that this is the first time a North American musician has ever made the leap to pro sports in Africa. The massive fanbase we talked about earlier will pave the way for discussions about the league, and in the right circles (the people with hundreds of millions of dollars) there is possibility for enormous investment to the league. Not only does this move make for more hype and excitement surrounding the league, but also gives notice to Africa for sports fans, and outside of soccer/football and cricket, there aren't sports for many North Americans to watch - until now.
Ultimately, this move will pave the way for a significant amount of North American viewership to the league, I know I watched J. Cole's first game this morning while I worked out, and saw plenty of others posting on their Instagram and Snapchat stories that they were doing the same. The move of the world-famous musician to the league will surely boost the leagues profile much faster than it would have grown without J. Cole, and the goal and hope is that this move will help the worldwide growth of the game of basketball. Beyond that, the digital presence of the Basketball Africa League will continue to grow, and the more that they feature J. Cole, the more that his fans will begin to tune in, and from there the only way to go is up!
To learn more about the Basketball Africa League, visit the leagues official website by clicking here!