Ater Majok Main Picture

Majok on a mission to cement legacy at the BAL

AS a rookie in basketball learning from the best in the business is paramount. So, when you get drafted into a LA Lakers containing the late great Kobe Bryant and artful Pau Gasol, the experience can only be richer.

This was the experience of South Sudan born power forward Ater Majok, who was part of the 2011 NBA draft class. Although the second round draft pick did not have much of an NBA career, the privilege of rubbing shoulders with basketball royalty prepared him for the rigours of professionalism. He spoke glowingly about the experience of his draft day and what it meant to learn from luminaries like Bryant and Gasol.

Ater Majok Second Picture
Ater Majok in action. Pictures: Tunisia Basketball Federation

“It was like a dream. I still get goosebumps whenever I watch the video of that day. Being able to achieve my dreams and to be called,” said Majok, reflecting on being drafted into the NBA. “You have thousands of people applying for that one position, but it’s only sixty players that get it. To be named among that group of players is an honour and to called by a team I grew up watching and idolising all my life. I was like, wow!

“Being around the great Kobe and Pau Gasol. Receiving their words of wisdom, watching them practise, seeing them do certain things and the way they lived their lives. I realised I was not even close to being the professional I thought I was at the time. So, that changed my mindset about a lot of things.”

Having enjoyed a successful career playing for different clubs overseas, Majok is back on the African continent. His collective experience is benefitting six-time Tunisia Championnat National A winners US Monastir. The North African club are one of the 12 participants in the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) in Kigali, Rwanda (May 16).

Initially, Majok was sceptical about signing for the Tunisian club last year and dismissive of the BAL competition. While excitement had built around the NBA backed league, the 33-year-old was unsure what it would do for his name and the reputation.

I was in New Zealand at the time, and my cousin called to let me know about a league in Africa sponsored by the NBA. My response was, ‘it’s going to be one of those leagues that you hear no longer exists after two years’,” said Majok. “I have a name and a reputation. I don’t want to play in certain leagues. I don’t want to be in certain countries. I then got a call from my agent, who informed me about interest from a team competing in the BAL. He told me: ‘there is a team in the BAL that is interested in you. They want you. They are contenders for the championship.’

I told my agent I would get back to him. It took me a month to get back to him as I was more interested in going to China at that point.”

Despite Majok’s doubts about the BAL, Monastir were relentless in their pursuit for his services. It is also understandable why. The 6ft10 forward has had a decorated career, having won titles in Slovakia, Belarus, Germany and China. He was also a defensive juggernaut in the Chinese league and crowned defensive player of the year on three occasions.

“They kept calling and finally told me: ‘You are the player for us. You fit our system. You are African and so on…,'” said Majok. “After a month, we agreed on the money. Tunisia also seemed like a cool place, so why not give it a try? I landed in Monastir a week later. Unfortunately, they postponed the BAL because of COVID-19.”

Majok spent seven months on lockdown in his hotel room in Monastir. It was a challenging time mentally for him, as he did a lot of reflecting and was also being hard on himself. Fortunately a conversation with his sister reminded him of the opportunities available to him.

“I was in Monastir in a hotel from February until September by myself. The first two months, I was overthinking things. I was thinking about life and asking myself: ‘Where did I go wrong?’, said Majok, who competes internationally for Lebanon. “I then had a conversation with my sister, who reminded me that I should not take any day for granted and that I was blessed to be a basketball player. Some people had lost jobs because companies had closed down and they could not bring home a salary.

Ater Majok Third Picture
Ater Majok in action.

“I started to think differently. I began to think about myself as a brand and started focus on new ventures and not just basketball. COVID woke me up from that shell of being a basketball player and living in the clouds. It gave me a reality check,” said Majok.

On the basketball front, Majok recently helped Monastir defend their league title. He is now looking forward to the continental challenge and sees competing for the BAL title as career-defining.

“It was great to defend the championship, but in my head, I told myself: ‘I like this trophy, but there’s a bigger trophy that I am after. For me, it’s going to be the biggest thing I do in my life and for my legacy,” concluded Majok.

Majok’s new attitude towards the continental league and his endless hunger for success are positive signs for Monastir. The desire to leave a mark on African basketball has awoken a beast inside of him, which Monastir will look forward to seeing unleashed.

*Monastir are in Group A with Patriots (Rwanda), Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria) and GNBC (Madagascar).


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