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2017 NBA Africa Game

Thabo Sefolosha gets his chance to suit up at NBA Africa Game

Hawks guard with South African ties will play for Team Africa after missing first game with injury

JOHANNESBURG – Two years ago, Thabo Sefolosha watched helplessly as Team Africa lost to Team World in the inaugural NBA Africa Game.

The veteran NBA guard with South African ties wanted to be a part of history by playing in the first NBA Africa Game on Aug. 1, 2015. Sefolosha, however, suffered a leg fracture in April 2015 after an altercation with a New York City police officer. In April, Sefolosha reached a $4 million settlement with the New York Police Department while playing for the Atlanta Hawks.

While this continent will be rooting hard for Team Africa on Saturday night, perhaps no one wants to beat Team World this time more than Sefolosha.

“I am taking the game seriously,” Sefolosha said. “I didn’t play in the last one. I’m not going to lie; a win would be nice because I was recovering from the injury [last time]. I couldn’t play, unfortunately.

“I’m glad it is all finally over. For me, it was a victory just to go through everything I went through. Now my body is almost feeling proper. I am able to play basketball still. It was an experience I grew from. That’s all I can ask for. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t wish on anybody, but I had to go through it and I learned from it.”

Sefolosha was born in Vevey, Switzerland, on May 2, 1984, to South African musician Patrick Sefolosha and Swiss artist Christine Sefolosha. Sefolosha’s parents met in South Africa and it was very difficult for them to be in public because he was black and she was white. During apartheid, Patrick Sefolosha was once arrested after being in public with his wife in South Africa.

Thabo said his parents moved to Switzerland after his older brother was born because they believed that raising a child in South Africa at that time was too problematic. Due to apartheid and lack of finances, Sefolosha said, he didn’t travel to South Africa until he was a teenager.

“The first time I came was when I was 17, and ever since I’ve been coming every year,” Sefolosha said. “It was very tough for my parents. They told us some of the stories about my dad being handcuffed and put in jail just for being with a white woman. It was here. Once my older brother was born, they had to leave because it was impossible to raise a mixed kid here.

“It is different now. They are improving compared from when I first came here. The main difference is that there are probably more of what you see with the new buildings. But the mentality is still going to take a lot more time with the whole apartheid thing. It wasn’t that long ago.”

Before the NBA Africa Game, there is also the 15th Basketball Without Borders camp here. The top 80 boys and girls ages 17 and under from 26 African countries are participating in the camp. There is only one boy from South Africa in the camp, which is more known for producing rugby, cricket and soccer players.

Sefolosha and Team Africa certainly will have to play very well to overcome a loaded Team World roster. NBA All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker, 2011 NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Kristaps Porzingis, C.J. McCollum, 2017 All-NBA rookie pick Jaylen Brown, Wilson Chandler, Andre Drummond and Courtney Lee.

Team Africa comprises players born in Africa and second-generation African players, but there are no All-Stars. Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Luol Deng, Bismack Biyombo, Clint Cappella, Gorgui Dieng, Luc Mbah a Moute, Salah Mere, Emmanuel Mudiay, Victor Oladipo and Dennis Schroder are on the roster. Joel Embiid, possibly the best player on the African roster, is out due to injury. Due to his ties here, Sefolosha is considered the lone South African representative.

“I am the only South African in the NBA, so I am [the representative],” Sefolosha said. “Even though I didn’t grow up in South Africa, I am very much South African. My father is from here and we have strong ties to South Africa.

“It’s not a national sport [here]. I can say the same thing about Switzerland. They care more about soccer and other sports. But events like this is a huge plus for South Africa and Africans in general.”

While technically it’s just an exhibition game, it doesn’t feel like that to the Africans involved in trying to promote basketball in The Motherland. During a press conference promoting the NBA Africa Game on Wednesday, Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba predicted that Team Africa would win. Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who won’t be playing this time around, agreed with the prediction.

“I didn’t bring my shoes, size 22,” Mutombo said. “If I walk out there, it’s going to be ceremonial. I’m not going to repeat what they did two years ago when I was promised five minutes and I was left on the basketball court for more than 15 minutes. I thought I was going to die there.

“Of course, the Africa team will win it. We have more than the best talent. C’mon, man, I am going to be cheering for my team even though I work for the league. I am going to be cheering for the African team. Yes, it will would mean a lot [to win]. We are playing on our soil and we are showing our fans on our continent that there is no better place than home. So, this is big.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.