When former NBA star Chauncey Billups was approached about participating in Basketball Without Borders 10 years ago, he was interested but had to postpone due to timing issues. He knew that when he came back to the proposal, he wanted it to be in Africa.
“I’ve heard so many great things and I’ve never been here before,” Billups said. “I wanted to make sure I got here.”
On Sunday, Basketball Without Borders Africa opened its camp in Cairo, Egypt with Billups among NBA coaches leading the event to more than 60 boys and girls athletes from across the continent. With time before the NBA season started, Billups and his wife were able to make the trip.
During the opening, the NBA took participants to attractions such as the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. The Lamperniks participated in basketball stations for offensive and defensive drills, measurements, and life and leadership development. On Wednesday, the event will conclude with playoffs, a championship, a 3-point shooting contest and an awards ceremony.
“Sometimes they can come out and perform, sometimes they’re a little shaky, but man, they’re so excited, they’re so thankful and grateful to be here, you can just feel it,” Billups said. “I love that feeling, I really do.”
Billups is joined by NBA coaches including Steve Kerr, Willie Green, Wes Unseld Jr. and Chris Finch. NBA players training at the camp include Udoka Azubuike, Mo Bamba, Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams. Dikembe Mutombo is also involved as a global ambassador for the NBA.
In addition to working with BWB campers, NBA players and coaches participated in the Jr. NBA clinic for 100 boys and girls in collaboration with Special Olympics.
Billups’ path to the NBA provides a unique insight into players. As the third overall pick in 1997, he was highly regarded as a promising prospect, but after being traded three times in his first three seasons, he quickly approached journeyman status. After a successful stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Billups signed with the Detroit Pistons and emerged as Mr. Big Shot, becoming a five-time All-Star and Finals MVP.
As a player who has seen every level of success, he shared a key lesson with young athletes.
“When you have conversations with these kids here, you just share with them that it’s not always going to go your way,” Billups said. “You’ve got to stick with it, you’ve got to believe in the work you’re putting in.”
He also reminded them not to skip steps, especially regarding the fundamentals of the game.
“Our kids are so talented that sometimes they can skip steps. You just don’t need to. You have to understand the basics,” he said.
Billups said he had to force himself to slow down while practicing to properly explain and demonstrate his message. That’s partly a lesson he learned in his first year as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers — what’s instinctive to him might not be to other players — but there’s also a language barrier with some campers here.
During three days, the lessons are translated. He has seen real commitment and buy-in and excitement to be a part of the program.
“They all have the same dream that I had when I was a kid,” Billups said.