It has long been said that basketball is a global sport. Looking back over the course of my career, I realize how I am most blessed for where the sport has taken me--all over the world and back again. Today, I am reporting from Algiers, Algeria, as a representative for the Embassy of the United States during this exciting new sports envoy visit that is sure to change my life for the better.
I am joined by retired NBA great-turned-coach Mr. James Cleamons, and already just one day into the trip I have a great appreciation for the wisdom he brings to our team. An Ohio State University standout, not only is he a man of noble character in his own right, he also has the distinction of being drafted to the Los Angeles Lakers and playing his rookie season in the NBA with none other than Wilt Chamberlain! He's a true point guard in both his mind and his heart, and this is the kind of leadership that cannot simply be learned.
We are also joined by a super special group of Algerians: Mounir, Mehdi, and Hichem. Together they have created a program called "A Bucket and a Dream", and with the assistance, help and support coming from the US Embassy along with sponsorships from companies like Under Armour, they are developing a cool new way to completely change the basketball culture in their home country. We are literally here to help shape their vision, and change the Algerian basketball world as they know it.
What is Africa to Me?
Countee Cullen famously asked this question in his 1925 poem "Heritage", and I found myself asking the same question on my first night arriving to Algeria. As an American, sometimes I feel as though we are innocently unaware of this continent and the many countries that constitute it. For example, even on the plane ride when I was randomly watching Disney's The Rescuers, the opening scene of the movie startled me. As the different mice all over the world from the "International Rescue Aid Society" were congregating, I quickly noticed that one mouse represented "Africa". This issue was extremely problematic for me and I couldn't get the bothersome idea out of my head.
There is a pervasively innocent ignorance about what "Africa" is to most Americans, but during my first night having dinner with a trio of Algerians, it was explained to me in a way that finally made perfect sense. There is a definitive pride stemming from a continental African identity, but each individual country fosters its own sense of national pride and uniqueness; it was a joy to discover this during my first night in Algeria. Most of all, the revelation that brought it all together was how the geography shapes the identity more than anything else. Specifically speaking about the Northern African region, I was told most of everything relating to their identity is shaped by the Sahara Desert.
History of Algeria
The Algerians have a long history of being invaded and colonized, starting with the invasion of the Ottoman Empire in 1529 (Hayreddin Barbarossa). In 1830, the Kingdom of France (ruled by Charles X) invaded and conquered Algiers through a large-scale military operation, finding cracks in a crumbling Ottoman Regency and winning in a decisive victory. The Algerians would get their justice in the mid 20th century, however, when they won independence from French colonization in the great Battle of Algiers, which composed of intense urban guerrilla warfare that took place primarily in 1956-1957.
Consequently, there is a lot of pride here in Algeria, specifically for fighting for their independence and winning. After an extensive history of conflicts, Algeria was last colonized by the French. In terms of language and religion, the country speaks both French and Arabic, and collectively practices the Islamic faith by the book.
Algeria is unique in many ways: one fun food fact that sets them apart from the rest is that they are the originators of the delectable dish couscous.
Sandwiched by Morocco and Tunisia, Algeria is not as tourist focused as those countries and as a result, the atmosphere is a lot more reserved and focused on their history and pride. In a lot of ways they are rebuilding their country, and this makes me even more excited at the opportunity to help mold and shape this country's unique culture for the future.
Most of all, the culture of Algeria can be classified by the warm hospitality that accompanied us upon our arrival. Our group of guys are inspiring, energized, and best of all, they are extremely kind. Above anything else, I cannot wait to work with the participants of this week-long event, and I feel extremely privileged to share my passion and knowledge for the game of basketball to help promote and shape a culture of endless possibilities through sports.
Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach