Former basketballer Samabaly launches startup to promote Kenyan athletes
Aly Samabaly never conquered the world of basketball, but the sport is what has shaped his life.
Born in squalid conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Samabaly was introduced to basketball by chance and ended up playing against the best.
His story is one that every African child sees themselves in.
With all the talents in the world, Samabaly never played one day of a professional Basketball game but that game has shaped his life in ways that are hard to believe.
Exactly 20 years ago, a new crop of basketball stars emerged at the United States high school level.
Everyone wanted to be at the Salem Division III boys basketball sectional-district tournament.
This is where the next generation of American elite basketballers was being unearthed.
This is where the great Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James sprang from.
LeBron, playing for Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary which was ranked No. 6 in the nation, was a sensation.
Alongside LeBron was a young gifted Congolese-born Aly Samabaly, who was instrumental in the success of the St Vincent St Mary High School Basketball Team.
In their squad was also Travis Romeo, Sian Cotton inside, Brandon Weems, who is the assistant general manager for the NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers and Dru Joyce III outside and senior standout shooters Aly Samabaly and John Taylor.
While LeBron went on to become NBA super Star and Maverick Carter went on to become the CEO of Spring Hill Production a 780 millions dollars company, Samabaly who in one of the High School matches recorded a game-high 61 points in 3 quarters decided to take a different path.
He became a trainer, and set up a gym to train the sportsmen.
“LeBron and I were the stars of my high school team and everybody expected me to move on to the NBA like my friend LeBron but I looked at myself and I decided to do something different, I wanted to empower the future sportsmen, create opportunities for the upcoming talents in Africa,” says Samabaly.
For the last decade and a half, Samabaly has been all over Africa nurturing talent through his Be Own Sports Foundation which led him into a new venture that has landed him in Kenya where he set up a promising startup firm that is aimed at using technology, media, branding and marketing to empower and support sportsmen in their career, as well as African entrepreneurs to have the resources to compete in the global market.
Launched in December 2022, the AlyMali Enterprise which has a Sports & Entertainment Management wing in which Samabaly is the Founder-CEO aims to establish long term mutually beneficial relationships with appropriate stakeholders in order to enhance the sporting experience of Athletes, fans and sponsors on and off the field.
Already, the company has signed in the national men’s basketball team player Ronny Gundo who is based in Spain and the national ladies basketball captain Melisa Akinyi Otieno.
Alymali has also signed an agreement with volleyball side Trailblazers.
“We want to create a hub that will empower Africa Sportsmen to improve their livelihoods in different fields even after they retire. We will brand and market them when they are still active whilst also creating training and entrepreneurship opportunities for them to venture in,” says Samabaly.
But why did he choose to invest in Kenya rather than in the Democratic Republic of Congo where he was born or Mali, the homeland of his father?
Samabaly says Kenya has all that is required to emerge as Sports, media and tech hub of Africa.
“I met several athletes and sportsmen from Kenya who talked very well about this country. And I told myself, this is where to put up a sports Star-Up management company that will serve the rest of Africa,” he said in an interview in Nairobi.
Born in October 10, 1981, in the Democratic Republic of Congo from a Congolese mother and a Malian father, Samabaly lost both of his parents by the time he was 8 years old.
Unbeknown to him, his father had another family that lived in France. When his step sisters came to his father’s burial in Mali, they opted to return with him to France.
“In France, I made friends very fast. I would play football on the streets with fellow young boys,” he says.
“Basketball was not my favorite, I was not very good at it but I would play it every single day trying to get better, I mean every day.
One weekend, France was hosting an international youth basketball tournament in Douai, northern France. This was a competition organized by the Ciecielski family in partnership with FIBA the world governing body of Basketball.
When one of the invited teams-The Ivory Coast failed to attend, the organizers of the tournament decided to pick a select team to fill the vacant spot.
“We quickly assembled a team made up of local boys. Aly was one of the players we picked in the select team,” says Jean Pierre Ciesielski who was a youth basketball coach and also part of the organizing team for the tournament.
“The tournament had some of the big names today in world basketball among the Tony Parker, Kevin Durant, Tristan Thomson to name a few,” Ciesielki says.
Samabaly did not have a French passport so he could not play for the country. But being picked in the select team was to turn his life completely and introduce him to a totally new world.
American basketball NBA, NCAA scouts who were present at the tournament spotted Samabaly.
“I was playing against Tony Parker in one of the matches. He was by far the best player in the tournament,” says Samabaly.
“I was playing as a guard and I said to myself, this is my chance to shine. I kept Parker out of the game and at the end of it, some scouts were all over me,” he adds.
He earned a scholarship to play basketball in the US.
“I ended up in Akron, Ohio, the same time with LeBron James. We became great friends on and off the court while winning several championships. But after High school, I had to make a choice whether to turn pro or not,” he says.
He opted to become a trainer for athletes setting up a gym. “I would train top athletes in different sports which include my twin daughters who are incredible Tennis players with a bright future and my son who is a promising talent in Basketball,” he says.
Samabaly first came to Kenya in 2007 after he had set up the BE Own Sports foundation.
“I wanted to create a Sportswear from which the sale of the kits would go to the foundation. Believe me we are working on bringing that back to life because that brand is the people’s brand,” he says.
When the BE Own Sports foundation was first launched in Kenya just about 50 children joined in. “Two years later, when we were engaging in activities here in Nairobi, and Kinshasa we had over 1000 children at some of our camps,” he says.
Samabaly says the idea behind the formation of the foundation was to impact on the lives of children through sports while providing resources for them to go to school.
“My vision was and still is to build sports facilities for our youths to play and learn.”
The foundation acquired a facility in Nairobi to build basketball and tennis courts but after the ground breaking and construction started, some corporate partners failed to come through despite initially promising to do so.
“It is still a project I hold so dearly and I am looking for new partners both here and in the US, to ensure I give these children a modern ground to play sports and I will not stop until we get it done.”
Samabaly says the time for Africa has arrived and the excitement in Africa around the world is magical. “We as Africans are realizing that it is about time to really start pushing the growth of sports in Africa because its economic impact is unmatched,” he says.
“The performance of Morocco for instance in the World cup attests to the growth of sports. The introduction of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) in Rwanda is a massive development. The NFL is active in Nigeria and I am sure in Kenya, the government will never let Kenya fail in the race to be a sports powerhouse in Africa,” he says.
“We must take advantage of this as Africans and ensure our sportsmen and community gain from this.”
From his company Alymali Enterprise which has its corporate headquarters in Westlands and headed by former Kenya women basketball captain Silalei Shani, he hopes to brand athletes and sports clubs, market them through Alymali media and empower them through training on how to manage their income and invest.
“Our formula is very simple, we just want to see other people become successful because succeeding is the only way we can succeed. We must unite Africa through sports.