“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
This impressive speech is my immediate answer when I am asked about my memories of Nelson Mandela who passed away at the age of 95 last Thursday, 5 December, at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mandela spelt out and shared this speech on a number of occasions because he firmly believed that sport is a tool capable of ironing out differences, cracking down on segregation and bringing people of all backgrounds together.
As an example of Mandela’s passion for sports, he was last seen in public during the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in his native South Africa, the biggest sporting event staged on the continent.
Mandela was a sports lover and a keen basketball supporter. He had publicly met and discussed African basketball with representative of Basketball without Borders (BWB) several times.
I am dedicating this week’s column to share with you how members of the global basketball family reacted to the passing of Mandela, a natural fighter who believed in forgiveness.
What follows is what I call “A Minute of Silence for Mandela”.
USA forward LeBron James: “His words, his mind will live on forever. In his 95 years, he was able to do some unbelievable things, not just for South Africa but for the world. You hate to lose a pioneer and a great, but what they leave behind means more than anything, and I think what Nelson Mandela will leave behind is more than himself. It’s going to going to live on forever like Martin Luther King and some of the other greats that have come and gone. It’s a sad day for his family, but I think for us to all be in this position to see what he meant for the world means everything.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern: “Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful and inspirational leaders in the world and a great friend of the NBA. He led his nation to democracy at incredible personal sacrifice, and in rebuilding it, he understood how to harness the power of sport to inspire and unite people of all backgrounds. Our thoughts and hopes are with the Mandela family and the people of South Africa, and while we mourn his passing, we know that his legacy and quest for equality will endure.”
Pau Gasol, Spain international and UNICEF Ambassador tweeted: “Thankful to@NelsonMandela for having shown us so much wisdom and leadership. His legacy and example will always stay with us. RIP #Madiba.”
Former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar followed suit: “Nelson Mandela was a great man. A bright light has gone out. His ability to lead & inspire are unparalleled in my lifetime.”
The tribute paid to Mandela on basketball courts around the world, in the past few days, is everything ‘Madiba’ dreamed of and fought for: RESPECT.