Get to know Toronto Raptors G-League coach Jama Mahlalela

(Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Jama Mahlalela is the embodiment of hard work and determination leading to success. Here’s a look at the man and his accomplishments after over a decade in the Toronto Raptors organization.

Jama Mahlalela (MAH-la-lay-lah) is the head coach for the Toronto Raptors G-League affiliate, Raptors 905. He earned the role this past summer after acting as the NBA squad’s assistant coach for the last five years. In order to get himself to this position, Mahlalela built himself a long and diverse basketball resume.

Mahlalela was born in 1980 in the Southern Africa Kingdom of Mbabane, eSwatini, at the time known as Swaziland. He moved to Canada at a young age, where basketball became his passion. His love for the game meshed well with his natural leadership abilities. Leadership that shone in everything he did.

In middle school, he was a player-coach. At his high school, Oakwood Collegiate Institute in Toronto, he served as the Student Council president while playing exceptional ball for the school team. This led to him being recruited to the University of British Columbia where he was eventually named co-captain of the Varsity Thunderbirds.

While at UBC earning his Bachelor of Kinesiology, Mahlalela became the president of the Thunderbird Athletes Council and athletic representative to the Athletic Council. His work and support of athletics were paired with his on-court dominance where he led his varsity team to a Canada West title in 2003.

Mahlalela’s time at UBC was so impactful that they created an award in his name. To earn the Jama Mahlalela award, a student must be recognized for their “selfless dedication, leadership, and spirit as a student-athlete and citizen of UBC.”

In 2005 Mahlalela began what would be a four-year stint as the assistant coach for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues basketball team. Being in this role was not enough for the zealous coach in his twenties.

In 2006 Mahlalela began working for the Raptors community development team instead of pursuing a career in education, despite earning a degree allowing him to teach in secondary school. He ran basketball camps and clinics across Canada including the Raptors Basketball Academy. He even founded Concrete Hoops, camps for players in Toronto, Swaziland, and Rio De Janeiro.

Mahlalela’s experience made him the perfect person for the Raptors to promote to on-court skills development. He took the job in 2008, still as an acting coach for U of T. His career only blossomed from there. Just one year later, Mahlalela became the Director of Basketball Operations for NBA Asia. Based in Hong Kong, he was tasked with overseeing both youth and elite basketball development programs.

It did not take long for the former 6’3″ wing to return to the Raptors. General manager, Bryan Colangelo hired Mahlalela to work in off-court player development during the 2012-13 season. He leveraged that experience to an on-court position the very next season as a member of coach Dwane Casey’s staff. Already familiar with the players and their families, spending a year ensuring they had everything they needed and that they were comfortable in Toronto, he was the perfect fit.

His next promotion came in time for the 2016-17 season. He was moved from the second row of coaches to the first, joining his co-assistant coaches Rex Kalamian and current head coach, Nick Nurse. In that spot, Mahlalela made history. He became the first Canadian to ever coach at an NBA All-Star Game.

In June of 2018, Mahlalela became a head coach for the first time in his career. He is just the third coach in team history. Mahlalela took over the reins from the 2017 G-League coach of the year, Jerry Stackhouse. The Memphis Grizzlies have since hired Stackhouse to be an assistant member of their coaching staff.

Mahlalela is continuing with his history of leadership and guidance. He is taking two Canadian coaches under his wing and giving them each experience with their first professional team.

Joining the 905 coaching staff is Justin Alliman and Tamara Tatham. Alliman was a Community Relations Specialist for the G-League and a Jr NBA head coach. Tatham shares roots with Mahlalela. Like him, she is transitioning from her role as an assistant coach of the Varsity Blues. She was also a member of Team Canada’s Olympic basketball team, playing in both the 2012 and 2016 summer games. Tatham is also a pioneer, now “the first Canadian woman to have a coaching job on a North American men’s professional basketball team.” Mahlalela is not just a mentor but giving back to Canada basketball in his own way.

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Raptors 905 are very fortunate to have the right guy at the helm. Time will tell how the team fairs for the duration of his run, but Mahlalela will have basketball fans in both eSwatini and Canada in cheering for his success.