(CNN)The NBA is launching a professional basketball league in Africa that will feature 12 teams from several countries across the continent.
The NBA announced its plan along with International Basketball Federation, and will conduct qualification tournaments later this year. While there are several basketball teams across Africa, a pro league will unify them under one umbrella and provide resources and visibility.
“The Basketball Africa League is an important next step in our continued development of the game of basketball in Africa,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement Saturday. “Combined with our other programs on the continent, we are committed to using basketball as an economic engine to create new opportunities in sports, media and technology across Africa.”
Former President Barack Obama applauded the announcement.
“I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts,” he tweeted. “Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court.”
The NBA’s ties to Africa go a long way. Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby, whose parents are from Nigeria, and Hornets center Bismack Biyombo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were among the players who attended the NBA All-Star Africa luncheon Saturday, where the announcement was made.
Other players with ties to Africa include Joel Hans Embiid, a Cameroonian who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. NBA global ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, who played for several teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Raptors President Masai Ujiri is from Nigeria.