Football is the most popular sport in Ghana. That fact is not debatable. The simple question of who is better, Messi or Ronaldo will spark an argument that can easily cause tempers to flare and voices to be raised. Almost everyone in Ghana certainly has an opinion on one soccer topic or another. Indeed we have all been assistant coaches of the Black Stars at one point or another.
However, to ask who is better, LeBron or Curry, Djokovic or Nadal, Hamilton or Vettel might get you blank looks or if lucky some semblance of an answer. The mere fact is the lesser known sports are really not known unless among its diehard fans. Aside from the occasional tournaments held and the now increasing access to such content via the internet and paid TV, there is nothing else being done to promote them.
In the case of basketball, the situation is no different. The sport has been present in Ghana since the 1960s however it is only recently increased in popularity. This is despite the fact that Ghana has had some close representation in the NCAA and NBA through Pops Mensa-Bonsu, Nazr Mohamed and more recently Ben Bentil who was drafted 51 by the Boston Celtics in 2016 and now plays for Peristeri Athens in the Greek league. It is only baffling when our West African neighbors Nigeria and Senegal are considered 2 of Africa’s basketball powerhouses and that one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time is Nigerian and former center for the Houston Rockets Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon who is also a two-time NBA champion.
Recent conversations with friends revealed a few disturbing but also encouraging reasons as to why this is the case in Ghana.
My attention was drawn to the fact that in order to play football, the necessary equipment is readily available. A wide space and a football are all that is needed. With basketball, a raised vertical surface with an attached hoop is needed. This is along with a concrete or wooden surface in addition to a bouncing ball.
Another valid point raised was that until recently, most primary schools did not expose and engage their pupils in other sporting activities besides football and athletics. There was no investment made in developing basketball as an alternative to the two main sports. For most of these students, their first exposure to the game was at the secondary school level. Although not late, some may have decided to stick to what they were accustomed to. As a result of this, you realize that when strolling the streets of just Accra, most open spaces have been converted into makeshift soccer pitches
In addition to this, the mere fact that watching football is easy and simple whereas watching basketball meant using your internet or searching for a paid TV service that provided the games meant most people will opt for the sport they can easily access. These include services such as Kwese Television.
Add all this to the opinion that the rules governing football can be easily understood even when one is watching for the first time whiles one has to watch basketball over a period of time in order to understand the rules. This will likely put a first time off.
The last view which showed the lack of information people had on basketball was that in order to generally succeed at the game of basketball was that to eventually make it to the pinnacle of club basketball; the NBA, one must necessarily play in the US college basketball system. This may have been the case 20 or 30 years ago but not now. It is certainly not the only way although it is the most popular. There are other ways including playing professionally in Europe, China or even the NBA’s G-League.
However, there is hope for the future and for coming generations. Basketball is slowly but steadily increasing in popularity across the nation. The increase in internet access through the smartphone has opened various avenues for fans to have easy access to basketball content.
Youth and even young kids are beginning to realize that there is another potential sports avenue through which they can cater for their families aside soccer. Names such as Joel Embiid, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are slowly making their way into households here in Ghana.
The strong efforts of media personalities such as Yaw Sakyi, CEO of Rite Multimedia are bearing fruit. Organizers of the popular Sprite Ball for secondary schools across the country, they have unearthed many talents which have put the name of Ghana out there as a potential hub for talent.
The recent success of the University of Ghana basketball team in the UPAC games and in Africa coupled with the visits of NBA champion David West and the Giants of Africa Program has helped bridge the gap between athletes here and potential colleges or teams that they could play for to develop their skills.
The development of the Greater Accra basketball league is also doing its own to increase interest in the sport.
Basketball will certainly never achieve the popularity and strength of football, however, it can come in a strong 2nd or 3rd if much more is done to promote and popularize the sport.
I don’t mean looking at corporate bodies but through our own community programs and events.
By: Emmanuel Quartey/ basketball enthusiast