• Cyrus Rogers

Africa needs to get behind the Raptors

The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 118-109 in Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals. It was a real watershed moment for the Canadian franchise and Canada as a whole. But the real stand out in the game was Cameroon’s Pascal Siakam. He is the living embodiment of the African dream brought to life in the most marvelous way.

African NBA fans should rally behind this Raptors team in the NBA Finals as they have numerous Africans on and off the court; they are people who hail from the continent and are performing at the highest level. The players to watch are Cameroonian Pascal Siakam, Congolese Serge Ibaka and Nigerian-Briton OG Anunoby. Off the court Nigerian Masai Ujiri runs the ship as the team president, Congolese assistant coach Patrick Mutombo helps groom the players and South African Patrick Engelbrecht is the director of global scouting & international affairs, with African scouts Abel Nson and Mike Akuboh also playing their parts in making the team a success.

Siakam, the Game 1 Raptors top-scorer and leading candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year, is a former Basketball without Borders alumnus having participated in BWB in 2012 in Johannesburg. Like a few African players before him, including compatriot Joel Embiid, he’s gone on to huge success in the NBA via participation in the program. The hard work off the court is paying dividends on the court too as Siakam and his African cohorts in ‘The North’ are making a statement this season.

"It just shows the growth of the continent, Cameroon and just basketball in Africa in general, and kind of being at this stage and representing the continent is amazing." - Pascal Siakam after the Raptors beat the Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals

In Game 1 Siakam was a livewire, an unpredictable and some times unstoppable force for the Raptors while Kawhi Leonard stuttered. It was a stunning effort from a player taking part in his first-ever Finals. He rose to the occasion where many others in the past have shrunk under the intense spotlight. Siakam shone bright, scoring a massive 32 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. He was immense and the Warriors wilted in his wake. Siakam was proud to have been representing Africa on the biggest stage, “I think it's amazing. It just shows the growth of the continent, Cameroon and just basketball in Africa in general, and kind of being at this stage and representing the continent is amazing. I feel blessed and I just wanted the game to continue to grow in Africa, and for kids to see this and hopefully it inspires them.”

Siakam is just one of the African players at the Raptors with veteran Serge Ibaka another big-time performer. Ibaka played 17 minutes in Game 1 but his presence on the defensive end was huge as he made his presence felt. He scored five points, grabbed three boards, dished an assist and blocked a shot. That block came at a pivotal moment for the Raptors as the Warriors looked to claw their way back into the contest late on. Anunoby didn’t get any game time though as he’s still recovering from surgery and complications from a ruptured appendix, he too will play his part when fit. Anunoby’s defensive prowess will be much needed when he’s ready and he showed in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals that he doesn’t shy away from a challenge when he matched up against LeBron James.

This Raptors team will have attracted a lot of new fans as they’ve gone about their business this season. They have showed the fight and determination of would-be champions and many have connected with that. African fans of basketball should cheer them on with fervor and volume. This is Canada’s team, but this is Africa’s team too.

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