Ameer Aziz was playing basketball with his 8-year-old son at an Oakland park near 19th Street when he noticed something strange: a man instructing kids about how to play basketball. “Eventually, I walk to him and ask him what was he doing. Was he a coach? And then he spoke with an African accent and said, ‘No, I just like basketball,’” recalled Aziz about the encounter. He remembered thinking it was weird, because the man was doing it for free.
This is how Aziz, an ex-basketball player from New Jersey who played professionally abroad during the 1990’s, met Charles Mbaga, an ex-professional basketball player from Tanzania, an East African state. Mbaga, who has been in the United States for three years, is an ambassador for the Tanzania Basketball Federation, a group that advocates for the game at a local and international levels, and is drawing attention to the work his country is doing to promote the sport.
Together, the two men are now searching for sponsorship to fund a two-day basketball program for Bay Area kids to be recruited for a student exchange program that will allow them to travel to Tanzania. The goal of the event is to promote basketball as a discipline that creates opportunities for young people to achieve an education—and possibly even get a job in a sports-related field.
Aziz said basketball is a sport that allows people to build a sense of respect for others, to create relationships and to gain leadership within a community. Having that skillset allows for young people to find job opportunities eventually, he said. This is why he and Mbaga believe this event will benefit the participating kids in the long term.
“That’s the goal—for whatever craft or expertise we choose, whether it be [as an] electrician, a plumber, or a lawyer. To make money for your craft is key, after you study your craft for years,” said Aziz.
The event will be held this September at Jamtown, an Oakland basketball school located near Jack London Square. The program will be open for kids from ages 7 to 13 living in the Bay Area, and will include a competition after which the winners will have the opportunity to visit Tanzania. The organizers said the American students are expected to benefit by taking advantage of visiting a new country and participating in an international tournament.
“It’s a tremendous collaboration,” said Sam Moses, manager of Jamtown, of the idea of allowing American “kids to see a new style of how we play basketball here in the States.”
Eventually, the organizers hope to also bring kids from Tanzania to the United States, so they can take advantage of the sports programs available here. According to Mbaga, even though in Tanzania there is great interest in basketball, there is not the same access to equipment or transportation as there are in the United States. “This is a good opportunity,” said Mbaga. “America has good facilities [for] sports and academic access.”
Aziz and Mbaga are still in the process of raising enough money to fund both the Jamtown event and the subsequent exchange program. According to Mbaga, the plan is to provide free transportation to the Jamtown event for students interested in participating, security during the competition, and enough equipment for both the event and the exchange program.