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J. Cole’s Journey to the BAL Started Like All His Journeys: With a Dream

In this month’s Sports Business Journal and Boardroom collaboration, Eddie Gonzalez examines the connectivity between J. Cole’s long road and personal commitment to his dream of playing professional basketball and the launch of Basketball Africa League. While Cole’s presence on-court is giving the BAL extra global attention, it’s just the beginning for both his journey and the league’s. 

“When I was kid, I wanted to play in the NBA, not just professional, but be in the NBA,” J. Cole explained on “The ETCs with Kevin Durant” podcast two days before his professional debut with Rwanda’s Patriots BBC earlier this month in the Basketball Africa League.

“But I was delusional. I didn’t have any reason to think that I would be in the NBA, but I definitely thought I was good enough… I was that delusional kid. It’s almost like I had blinders on… and I kept that delusion going.”

As I wrote in Sports Business Journal this week:

“Cole attended St. John’s (N.Y.) on an academic scholarship, graduating in 2007, and he briefly tried out as a walk-on his sophomore year. Despite not having played competitively since high school, perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to Cole for his pro basketball debut is that he looked like he belonged. In 17 hard-fought minutes he tallied three points, three rebounds, and two assists.

“Cole’s journey is almost as fascinating as that of the league itself. A collaboration between the NBA and FIBA, the Basketball Africa League is the first-ever NBA-assisted league outside of North America and features 12 teams from Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tunisia, respectively.

“The purpose of the BAL is not to be a development league for the NBA itself. Instead, the league’s focus is to establish a system in Africa to help the game grow and become an opportunity for native players who can thrive at home and help create their own culture of hoops.

To get to this point, Cole set himself up in a high-level basketball boot camp, working with several trainers and international pros. Most famous among them was Chris Brickley, who helped improve Cole’s jump shot and allow his dreams take root. “We created a little mini-camp with a bunch of pro guys around me,” he said. “Working with those guys, I changed and something clicked… it felt possible for the first time.”

Along the way, an ankle injury cost him over a year of training. But it only served to heighten the sense of urgency he felt in chasing his goals.

“Because I lost that year and change, I was like, ‘Now you’re really on the clock.’ It was already ridiculous… So, what are you going to do? Are you going to quit or are you going to start right now?”

From his award-winning career in music to his fledgling career in the Basketball Africa League, there are plenty of words one might use to characterize Cole’s trademark determination.

Delusional isn’t one of them.

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