One of Canada’s best-known value investors has joined forces with the National Basketball Association and five former NBA stars to launch a basketball business in Africa.
Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd.’s African arm, Helios Fairfax Partners Corp., is a founding investor in NBA Africa, a newly established entity that will run the professional basketball league’s business across the continent. NBA Africa’s holdings include a stake in the 12-team Basketball Africa League, which finishes its inaugural season this weekend in playoffs at a 10,000-seat stadium in Kigali, Rwanda.
The former NBA players putting money into the venture are Dikembe Mutombo, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo; South Sudan-born Luol Deng; Junior Bridgeman; Grant Hill; and Joakim Noah. Lagos, Nigeria-based industrial conglomerate Yinka Folawiyo Group is also investing.
“Today’s announcement is the result of many years of investment and on-the-ground work to grow the game of basketball in Africa,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a news release.
He said NBA Africa has an enterprise value (basically equity plus debt) of US$1-billion.
“We believe that basketball can become a top sport across Africa over the next decade, and I look forward to working closely with our investors to make that goal a reality.”
The NBA has backed basketball programs in Africa for decades, as part of a global outreach program that also saw the league promote the game in China and Europe. The new investors in NBA Africa are funding expansion of the BAL and league programs across the continent, including additional NBA academies.
The BAL partnership marks the NBA’s first collaboration with a league outside of North America. The International Basketball Federation, based in Switzerland, is also an investor in the BAL.
Helios Fairfax is one of Africa’s largest private-equity fund managers, with stakes in banks, reinsurers, telecom and energy companies. Helios Investment Partners, based in Britain, was founded in 2004 by two Nigerian natives – Tope Lawani and Babatunde Soyoye – who both previously worked for TPG Capital, one of the world’s largest private-equity funds.
Last December, Fairfax acquired a 53-per-cent voting stake in Helios Fairfax by merging its African operations with Helios Holdings Ltd. Helios Fairfax manages US$3.6-billion, including US$717-million of the company’s own capital, and has investments in 30 African countries. Parent Fairfax Financial has $74-billion of assets under management.
“Throughout Helios’ history, we have bridged international capital and expertise to African talent and enterprise, and this is a unique opportunity for us to do so in the world of sport by partnering with the NBA,” said Mr. Lawani, co-chief executive of Helios Fairfax. Mr. Lawani, a graduate of MIT and the Harvard Business School, is joining NBA Africa’s board of directors.
Mr. Mutombo, who earned over US$140-million during 20 seasons in the NBA, is now the league’s global ambassador.
“I’m fortunate to have been among the first players from Africa to make an impact in the NBA, and because of the commitment of these individuals, countless more players will have the opportunity to follow in my footsteps in the years ahead,” he said in a news release early Tuesday.
Along with Fairfax Financial, there are several other Canadian connections to the new NBA Africa platform. Mr. Bridgeman, who played in the NBA for 12 seasons, owns an empire of fast-food franchises and beverage distributors. In 2018, he partnered with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE) chairman Larry Tanenbaum to buy Coca-Cola Co.’s Canadian bottling operations for an estimated $800-million.
MLSE owns the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and team president Masai Ujiri is in Rwanda this week for the BAL playoffs. A spokesperson for the Raptors said due to time differences, Mr. Ujiri was unable to comment Tuesday on the NBA Africa initiative.
Mr. Ujiri was born in Nigeria and champions basketball as a way to educate youth on the continent through his Giants of Africa charity, which runs camps and outreach programs. He co-founded Giants of Africa in 2003. In 2013, he joined the Raptors and his contract with the team expires this summer.
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