HAVANA, 7 April The NBA will host a basketball development camp in Cuba later this month, making it the first major American sports league to conduct official business there since the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.
The four-day clinic in Havana, which starts on April 23, will be sponsored by the NBA and FIBA, basketball’s international governing body. The camp will be led by the Cuban men’s and women’s national teams, former NBA players Steve Nash and Dikembe Mutombo and former WNBA player Ticha Penicheiro.
In addition, the league plans to invite two players and one coach from Cuba to an upcoming Basketball Without Borders camp, a community outreach program. It also will send Orlando Magic coach James Borrego and Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, among other NBA assistant coaches and team executives, for a training camp with the Cuban national teams.
NBA officials said that the league initiated discussions with FIBA and the Cuban Basketball Federation about a camp in Cuba’s capital shortly after President Barack Obama said in December that the U.S. and Cuba had agreed to restore diplomatic ties that had been on hold since 1961.
“It all came together pretty quickly,” said NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, the top executive from the league office in the NBA’s delegation there. “We hope this is the beginning of a long and positive relationship with the Cuban Basketball Federation.”
The NBA isn’t as popular in Cuba as Major League Baseball, which likely will play an exhibition game there early next year, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told The Wall Street Journal last month. The New York Cosmos soccer team is also set to play a game there on June 2 against the Cuban national team.
But there is a history of basketball on the island. Cuba won the bronze medal in men’s basketball at the 1972 Olympics—the same year that the Soviet Union famously beat the U.S. in the gold-medal game after a series of controversial call—but it last played in the Olympics in 1980.
The NBA has had two Cuban-born players, according to the league’s records. Andrés Guibert was the first, playing 22 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. He was followed by Lazaro Borrell, who played 17 games with the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1999-2000 season.
But the immediate goal of the NBA’s trip there this month isn’t to identify the league’s next Cuban-born players, Tatum said. “This trip is about growing the game globally,” he said.