NBA’s Gorgui Dieng saved his national team from hotel eviction, but he hasn’t been reimbursed

Gorgui Dieng of┬áthe NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves says he paid out of pocket to prevent his national team from being kicked out of its hotel in Spain during training for the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket tournament. But Senegalese officials still haven’t reimbursed him, according to local media reports.

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Gorgui Dieng after a national team practice in Dakar.

Dieng told Senegalese media that representatives of the country’s Ministry of Sports asked him for a $69,800 loan because of “urgent financial problems” in late August. The hotel wanted to evict the Senegalese delegation because of nonpayment.

Dieng agreed to give the loan but says he hasn’t been reimbursed. The 6-foot-11 Senegalese captain also said players had threatened to strike because they didn’t receive their bonuses, and that the coaching staff was on the verge of quitting due to lack of payments.

In his written statement, reported Wednesday by the sports dailies Record and Stades, Dieng said he wanted to protect the team’s image and keep the focus on winning games. Senegal was among the favorites to win AfroBasket in September but finished third. Dieng was named to the all-tournament team.

“Winning the African cup was the only thing that mattered to me and it’s the only thing that motivates me to wear the national jersey,” Dieng said in the statement.

Dieng said the ministry and the Senegalese Basketball Federation have made several promises to repay him, but they keep missing deadlines. He said this shows a “lack of respect” and he now regrets stepping in to help.

The Record reported Dieng’s story on Tuesday, citing sources. The newspaper said it tried to contact the sports minister and the president of the basketball federation, without success.

Dieng is in the first year of a four-year, $62.8 million contract.

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Bad look: South Africa skips basketball World Cup

The qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup tipped off without South Africa. This is not good for African basketball.

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South Africa vs. Senegal in the 2017 AfroBasket tournament.

South Africa withdrew because of financial problems. Keep in mind South Africa has the continent’s biggest economy.

FIBA selected Chad to replace South Africa for the tourney, which began Nov. 24 in Cameroon and Angola.

Sanele Mthiyane, president of the country’s basketball association, explained in a Nov. 7 letter to FIBA that there’s an “unavailability of funds and lack of support” from the country’s sports department and confederation and Olympic committee. He said they are in debt from playing in the AfroBasket tournament in September.

This is a bad look for several reasons. First, South Africa is a sports leader on the continent. It hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and now it can’t afford to send a team to Cameroon?

To ‘grow the game,’ which everybody talks about doing, it helps to have economic backing. Basketball is fairly new to South Africa and isn’t on the radar compared to rugby or soccer, but the country has more resources than most in Africa.

Finally, NBA Africa has its office in Johannesburg. It has held two “all star” games in South Africa in hopes of raising the game’s popularity. The NBA is also opening an academy, in Senegal, to train elite players from all over Africa.

The South Africans went 0-3 in the AfroBasket tournament in Senegal, including two blowout losses, so no one was expecting miracles in the World Cup qualifiers. Still, it would have been another step toward improving its national team program. The blog MyBasketball wrote in August that South Africa’s preparation for AfroBasket was nonexistent.

The top five squads from the 16-team tournament will qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China. Top finishers in China will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

South African players turned to social media in hopes of raising funds but it was too late.

Sportscaster Robert Marawa tweeted: “The rot around Basketball in SA cannot go unchallenged!! These players have had years of being treated like dirt!! It has to stop!!”

This story in the Daily Maverick spotlights some of the internal problems.

This reminds me of what Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, said about African governments and sports management when I interviewed him before the AfroBasket tourney.

Ujiri, a Nigerian who runs clinics throughout Africa each summer, told me for my Associated Press story: “We’re moving forward in technology, we’re moving forward in banking, we’re moving forward in real estate. While these things are getting better, sports are being left behind. How is that possible?”

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