Rwanda and the NBA: Sending mixed messages?

With basketball games scheduled to be played, a Rwandan exile asks NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for help.

With basketball games scheduled to be played, Rwandan exile Paul Rusesabagina asks NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for help.

SAN ANTONIO – It’s been no secret the NBA has pushed hard to bring the league to the international stage. Some of the fan-favorite players over the last two decades have come from outside the United States.

Now, an NBA-affiliated league in Africa is set to start in less than a week.

The Basketball Africa League, which was going to start last year until COVID-19 halted those plans, will include 12 teams competing over the next few weeks with a championship at the end of the month. All the games in the BAL will be played in Kigali, Rwanda.

That is where things get complicated.

Last month, St. Mary’s University accused a diplomat at the Rwandan Embassy in Washington D.C. of spying on a Zoom classroom that was discussing the trial of Paul Rusesabagina, the man who saved over 1,200 people during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Rusesabagina is standing trial along with 20 others on terrorism charges, charges his family say are false, and nothing more than retaliation for speaking out against Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Rusesabagina and his family have been living as exiles and are permanent United States residents living in San Antonio, Texas.

Since Rusesabagina’s arrest, his family has reached out to many members of Congress to urge Rwanda to release Paul on humanitarian grounds. With these upcoming NBA-related games headed to the same city, which holds a San Antonio resident on trial, the family is now reaching out to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Paul’s wife Taciana wrote an open letter to the commissioner last week first reported by The Nation. Taciana listed her concerns for playing games in the country while her husband remains in solitary confinement and continues to be denied access to his lawyers:

KSAT 12 Sports reached out to the NBA for comment on the plea made by Taciana. The NBA would not directly comment on the open letter directed at Adam Silver but did release a statement from the BAL.:

The BAL begins play on Sunday, May 16.

Daniel P. Villanueva has worked with KSAT 12 for over 17 years and is an award-winning producer. To submit story ideas, email

About the Author:

Daniel P. Villanueva has been with KSAT 12 since 2003 and is the producer of our weekly sports show, "Instant Replay." Villanueva is a graduate of St. Mary's University and is a TAPB and Lone Star Emmy award winner.