Bringing basketball to Samburu


Yiwei Wang PhD, International Intern

Date Published

When Yao Ming visited the Kiltermany village outside of Samburu National Reserve in during his trip to Kenya in 2012, he broke their basketball hoop. To be fair, that hoop was probably not designed to withstand the dunking power of a 7’ 6’’ NBA star. To replace the broken hoop, Ming vowed to donate a whole new basketball court to the community. Although I was not around to witness Ming’s original visit, I was lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony for the new basketball court on April 21, which was constructed under the supervision of Jeremy Wyatt who carried out the work for Save the Elephants.

Hoisting the hoop

The village is located about 30 minutes drive from camp even though it is less than 10 kilometers away. When we get there, the crew is putting the finishing touches on the court – which involves stamping the ground to flatten it as much as possible. Jeremy delegates last minute instructions to the crew and then runs off to search for the elders who will help bless the court. Around the court and waiting for the basketballs to be distributed, kids are visibly excited, but the local men seem to be even more excited.

Finally, a little bit before sunset Jeremy and the elders gather at the center of the court surrounded by all the witnesses. As the elder begins to chant, men with sticks lift them and exclaim “N’gai” at every break, while those of us without any sticks merely close our fists. Bernard from STE tells me that N’gai means God and that the elder is asking God to bless the basketball court. Participating in this ancient, energetic ritual to bless a new basketball court, of all things, was an amazing experience and like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

After the blessing, the basketballs were released and the men began shooting hoops. Although very enthusiastic, the Samburu players definitely need some more practice before they can audition for the NBA. The kids were given miniature balls to play with and they shot hoops at the other end of the court. Sadly, the sun soon set, and it was too dark to really shoot or play anymore. However, this court will hopefully serve the local community for many years, so that many new basketball players will have a chance to practice their jump shots and dunks.

Yao with Kiltamany kids in Samburu