HAVANA (CBSMiami) – In a country where baseball is king, the NBA is hoping to score points with promising Cuban basketball players.
Players on the communist island are sharpening their skills with retired NBA stars Steve Nash and Dikembe Mutombo, an NBA Hall of Famer.
"This is my second time in Cuba and this is a place that's special and unique," Nash said. "This is an opportunity to learn something about our neighbors so close but with a different history."
Mutombo and Orlando Magic Interim Coach James Borrego spent time on the court with some of the best women basketball players in Cuba.
"I'm very happy to be in Cuba, especially Havana trying to teach the young women the game of basketball," Mutombo said. "They are very good and they are listening."
The NBA and WNBA were welcomed by Cuban athletes and sports officials at an opening ceremony for the four-day basketball camp at a university in Havana. Cuban athletes took cell phone photos of the stars on stage.
Felipe Chavez, a 16-year-old player from Havana, watched every one of the players' movements, calling it "a great opportunity to develop, to work on technique and the mental aspect of the game."
"I'd like to get to the top level of my sport and that's the NBA," he said.
The NBA is the first U.S. professional league to visit Cuba since the detente announcement. Basketball is arguably fourth most-popular sport, after baseball, boxing and soccer.
One team that's not in Cuba is the Miami Heat, which has a large Cuban-American following and often wear El Heat jerseys. Team officials objected to the Cuba trip and said they would not participate.
For those who are in Cuba, it's a chance to break new ground, scoping out new talent and refurbishing a basketball court for future stars on the island.
"Obviously Cuba is a country that has had its hardships," said Nash. "It's in need of many things, but it's not in need of education and health care. There's a balance to be struck that all nations try to find and I think Cuba is entering an interesting time in its history."
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