Boris Diaw, NBA’s most interesting man, making a difference in Africa
The off-season has been lively for the NBA’s most interesting man, spanning numerous continents, countries, beach vacations and a children’s book. With the Spurs reimagining themselves stateside and the French national team preparing to defend its championship, Boris Diaw has taken things in stride—perhaps the only way he knows how. Next on the to-do list: another trip to Africa, this time with NBA stars in tow and an inaugural exhibition game to play. Team World beat Diaw's Team Africa squad 101–97 on Saturday in Johannesburg.
The league has set up shop in South Africa for the week to run its annual Basketball Without Borders Camp, with the NBA Africa game a new addition to the slate. The NBA contingent spent the week with its boots on the ground, visiting Boys & Girls Clubs in addition to running the camp, which gives young players from Africa a chance to showcase and improve their skills. Chris Paul, Pau and Marc Gasol and Luol Deng, a native of South Sudan, are among the stars committing their time this week. For Diaw, whose father hails from Senegal, it’s a continuation of the grassroots work he’s focused on for a decade.
Though he may have more notoriety in the States for his love of food, wine and safari trips (he’s taken eight of them, for the record), Diaw, 33, has led basketball camps in Senegal since 2005. Earlier this year, the Spurs forward and his Babac’ards foundation teamed with the SEED Academy to found a school for girls, the first of its kind.
“We looked at the needs and that’s when we realized that there were pretty good things already done for guys as far as basketball, but not so much for girls,” Diaw said Thursday in a conference call with media.
He’s seen firsthand the success SEED has had sending players to American colleges and beyond, including Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, a native of Senegal and product of Diaw’s camps and the SEED Academy in Dakar.
“When we talk about equal opportunities, clearly it was not [that]," Diaw said. "That’s when we decided with my foundation that we would need to focus on helping a girls program.”
Diaw spent time with the school’s first class of students in May. His mother, Elizabeth Riffiod, played basketball in France and directs his foundation—and now, they hope to give another generation of girls an opportunity. Similar to many American programs, there’s an emphasis on academics before basketball and a hope that young women can make use of sport to launch careers off the court, as well.
“The girls were very excited to be there and be recognized and know they had somebody behind them and the project,” Diaw said.
The literacy rate for women in Senegal is just 39% and only 19% of women are enrolled in secondary schools. SEED has begun enrolling up to 20 girls each year. “If they wanted to go to school, learn things, get degrees, get better at basketball, they knew there would be people there to help them, so it was rewarding,” Diaw said.
A gap in the French national team’s summer schedule allowed Diaw and France teammate Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets (whose father was from Cameroon) to fly in to Johannesburg and partake in the week’s events. Team Africa, composed of first and second-generation African players and coached by the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, will take on Team World, coached by Lionel Hollins of the Nets and starring players from around the globe.
Next on the calendar for Diaw is September’s Eurobasket, where he’ll reprise his role as captain on the French national team to defend the 2013 championship before rejoining the Spurs, whose locker room will look slightly different upon his return. Diaw said he’s been pleased with the front office’s work, acknowledging the challenge of fitting several new contracts at once, shuffling personnel and orchestrating the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West.
The icing on the cake from the trip: spending extra time with Popovich, who’s apparently been in a good mood of late. With the summer they’ve both had, you might guess why.
“[Pop’s] pretty happy,” Diaw said. “So when you see him in a happy place, it’s always a plus.”