Last weekend at the Nyayo National Stadium – Basketball Gym, Nairobians were treated to another of the Friday Basketball Games that Kenya Basketball Federation has been holding since the 2011 season started. Working with the Code Red DJ – under its CodeRed Basketball tag and majorly assisted by one Peter Kiganya, the games had the added flavour of a curtain-raiser game of what was billed as the Celebrities v/s Referees game; who included Jalang’o, Big Ted, DJ Stylez, Shaffie Weru,Nonini, Daddy Owen among others up against an old but hard-fighting REFEREES team that included Juma Kent, David Maina, Kennedy Banda, Erick Omondi, Coach Goro and some experienced coaches in the Premier League.This particular game against the referees turned out to being the ‘main thrill’ of the night, even though there was the real All-Star game which had KBF’s Premier League’s best players pitted against each other in a East-West version of the more established NBA league in the US. Before all this had other curtain-raiser activities which included the shooting, dances and other forms of entertainment to keep the crowd on its feet on a chilly Friday evening. Strictly speaking though, if the numbers from the event are anything to go by, KBF is finally finding its feet on a situation that had seen die-hard basketball fans seek alternative forms of entertainment. Filling in a gymnasium on a typical weekend has been a real struggle for the basketball officials. This season, though after consulting with entertainment specialists Code Red DJs who’s business face is one Allan Muigai (aka DJ Stylez), along with Protel Entertainment as well as Sports Stadia which manages the Nyayo National Stadium; the Friday fixtures have started changing the face of the game. Initially the games had major clubs such as Co-op Bank, KCB Lions, Ulinzi Warriors among the top basketball sides playing amongst themselves. Then in June the And1 detour into Nairobi-Kenya (thanks to Coca-Cola Kenya and GM Kenya), the spark that needed to light the game again happened and this has worked to the organisers’ advantage. Jumping into the bandwagon, media new-kid-on-the-block, One FM also saw an opportunity to appeal to its target market. Friday’s second game played in two halves ended in favor of the Referees who won 30-28 leading a close 17-16 and 13-12 in both. The game did not end without drama as expected. Big Tedd went around celebrating a basket that he had buried for close to a minute sending the crowd into an uproar while ‘Misee Jalang’o Mwenyewe’ kept the crowd on its toes constantly chasing after the ball from the opponents and making calls for passes like his team mates were not seeing him in the court. Their opponents had their share of brilliance mostly from David ‘Maish’ Maina who was outstanding during the entire game. Maina, a former player at KPA, and currently the head coach of the USIU Tigers tore his opponents with passes and shots that settled the game which had threatened to extend to overtime. Jalang’o and Big Tedd contributed two points each to their loss while Victor Okello bagged 8 points for the Referees. Earlier the Ladies East Side that was packed with stars like Shani Silalei and Irene Makori thrashed the West Side 68 -80. They won all but the first quarter at 13-13, 21-20, 19-6 and 14-8. Irene Makori netted 9 points for the winners. The final game that pitted the men lacked the sparks the fans expected to see from it. The West side boasting of Tiberius Menya and Dan Okwiri narrowly beat the East Side led by David Ogolla and Ligare Griffins 88-87 to carry home the winners’ trophy while the MVP award went to Arou Ramadhan Chan of the West side. For a Nairobi crowd which will almost always fall for the latest hype, the Friday Basketball games are slowly becoming alternative form of entertainment. It is a step in the right direction though not all is done. Just not yet… Our views from the Friday games have our points as follows;

  • Crowd involvement – a quick look at the crowd shows most of them are newly converted basketball fans. This is the reason most left after the curtain-raiser game of CELEBRITIES v/s REFEREES. It is also the reason most of those left couldn’t identify with the real basketball players once they came out to play. Introduce the players, hype and domesticate the crowd to know their true basketball heroes. Remember how the crowd could identify with And1 stars?
  • Time – this has to be managed better if you are to keep the fans at the gym till whatever time you may need for them to leave. Spread the entertainment bits; keep reminding fans what is coming up and the main highlight of the evening. The main game of the night starting at 2300hours??? Most people at the Nyayo gym were groping in the dark of what’s next. The celebrities even left after their game (guess they still had to run to other engagements to earn their $$$ maybe…). Same thing to the KBF officials, sad!
  • Decor/Ambience – though much of this lies with the Sports Stadia Management Board, the Nyayo Basketball gym is in need of a fresh coat of paint and warmer, striking colours. It may also need some refurbishment for its cushioned walls, rims and the lighting. The ambience of a sporting event makes a whole difference if you’re hoping to wow a crowd of such proportions. It will also add more appeal to media houses that need more colour to their sports editorial stories.
  • Media – some of the media houses either avoided the whole event for reasons best known to them or they feigned commitment as has been the story with most Kenyan media houses with regards to sports. Until SuperSport or some other international media house starts featuring the games, they’re still relegated to some weekly magazine programme which edits it so much it ends up being a speck of no use. Media houses in Kenya have a peculiar sports editorial policy so you might need to work harder to entice them there.
  • Premier League pitch – as is happening with the Kenyan football scene, you need to get the clubs to have their own distinct identity. Either consult branding experts or the respective team managers to get teams to have a followership of their own. Except for the die-hard fans, most of the fans in that gym can’t distinguish which team or who Ulinzi Warriors, Tobias Onyango or Ancette Wafula or Lomboritz are.
  • Consistency – the performance, games and style of play from the main teams needs to be at a better level. You cannot build such hype about the game, show off the skills on individual skits about dribbling, dunking or shooting then give me a below-par game. It will serve no purpose at all in the efforts of getting back that ardent basketball or sports fan.
  • Corporate sponsorship– it is hard pitching to Kenyan corporate for sports events. Keep hope alive and you could see a change in attitude. A change in attitude too is needed at the top of KBF for officials to see the commercial sense of the game. We’ve sung this tune for too long. Even with its challenges football is now millions of shillings ahead of you…Anyway you can link the Friday games with the ongoing Spriteball talent search by next month?

Address these challenges are you’re on to a good thing. Mark your calendars people, every First Friday of the Month, make a date with Kenya’s basketball fraternity at the Nyayo National Stadium Basketball Gymnasium! Check some earlier posts on the Friday Basketball Games by KenyaHoopsMichezoAfrika and KenyaBuzz . Additional Reporting by Noel Robert