NBA in Abu Dhabi: A legacy that goes beyond two preseason games

NBA in Abu Dhabi: A legacy that goes beyond two preseason games
As part of the initiative as well, the NBA launched its first Arabic social media channels to connect with fans across the Arab world. (Getty Images via AFP)
Short Url
Updated 08 October 2022

NBA in Abu Dhabi: A legacy that goes beyond two preseason games

NBA in Abu Dhabi: A legacy that goes beyond two preseason games
  • It’s taken the NBA a long time to finally venture into the Arab world and Gulf region but its arrival in the UAE capital this week could build a lasting legacy far beyond that

Dubai teenager Anja Obradovic is dripping in sweat and out of words – she just finished a basketball clinic with players from the Milwaukee Bucks and was given a signed shirt from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I have Giannis’ shirt, I don’t even know how, he signed it. I have no words. I turned around and then the coach came and said, ‘Giannis gave you this’. I can’t believe it,” Anja told Arab News at the gym of the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, where hundreds of kids from across the UAE have taken part in clinics with NBA players and coaches over the past week.

It’s taken the NBA a long time to finally venture into the Arab world and Gulf region but its arrival to the UAE capital this week, where two preseason games between the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks are taking place at Etihad Arena, was well worth the wait.

A multi-year deal between the NBA and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) was announced last November and with it came a promise the collaboration would be much more than just hosting two games; it would build a lasting legacy far beyond that.

 

 

A Jr. NBA UAE program was launched, which saw over 450 kids between the ages of 11 to 14 take part in a basketball league that featured 20 boys’ teams and 10 girls’. A Draft Day was organized in the presence of Portland Trail Blazers legend Clyde Drexler as the children found out which teams – named after actual NBA franchises – they landed in.

Season two will feature an expanded version of the league, with 60 teams from Abu Dhabi schools set to take part.

“Every year they select one girl and one boy to go with the Elite team to the Jr. NBA Europe camp,” explained Bassam Nawfal, managing director of Sport360X, the local agency operating Jr. NBA UAE.

“This year there was a boy selected from Lycee Abu Dhabi and he traveled with the Jr. NBA Elite team to Rome, where they had a four-day camp. They do that every single season, hoping that one day we can get the first NBA player from the UAE that will join an NBA team.”

 

 

The league is just one part of the story. This week, some 2,000 kids were involved in various clinics and activities organized as part of this NBA-DCT agreement. USA Basketball coaches held sessions with P.E teachers from Abu Dhabi schools.

Legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Isiah Thomas, Vince Carter and Chris Bosch were invited to engage with fans and participated in Q&As at NBA District, a fan zone set up at Manarat Al Saadiyat that provides an immersive experience for lovers of the game.

The UAE’s first-ever NBA store opened at Yas Mall and an e-commerce site dedicated to this region is going live soon.

As part of the initiative as well, the NBA launched its first Arabic social media channels to connect with fans across the Arab world.

“The games are the tip of the iceberg and I think that everyone would always want to have games come into their market; but for us the games are a catalyst to do all these other things and finding that right combination of a place with a good arena but then a place that also thinks about it more holistically in terms of the impact that it can have beyond the games. This is what we have found here,” Ralph Rivera, Managing Director of NBA Europe and Middle East told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

 

 

The Bucks had just landed in the UAE capital, coming off a 14-hour flight, and went straight to the NYU campus on Saadiyat Island to take part in a clinic with 150 youngsters from NBA Basketball School in Dubai, the Filipino basketball community and Jr. NBA.

As the Bucks introduced themselves to the group, kids were lifting each other on their backs just to get a better view of the NBA stars standing before them. It wasn’t long before those kids actually played basketball with the Bucks squad and coaches, going for lay-ups with the likes of Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton guarding them and giving them tips.

“It’s great, they’re a bunch of players that we see on TV all the time, people that we look up to, people that have games we try to emulate. It’s fantastic to see them in person,” said 16-year-old Italian Frederick Graewert from NBA Basketball School in Dubai.  

“I would say the biggest thing we learned was once we’re on the court with them, kind of their bodies, really how small we look compared to them. So a tip I would take away from this, is to put a lot work in the weight room because these guys are a lot bigger than us and if we want to stand a chance to compete then that’s what you have to do.”

 

 

NBA commissioner Adam Silver admits it has taken the organization a long time to come to the region in this manner and says part of the wait was because they were looking for an indoor arena that fit all the criteria needed to host a successful event.

“Traveling NBA teams is not something that we take lightly. There are enormous traveling parties that come with them; there’s a lot at stake in terms of their physical wellbeing need for state-of-the-art facilities. So it’s largely been a function of arena infrastructure and we’re fortunate now that we have truly a state-of-the-art arena here,” Silver said in a roundtable interview held at Etihad Arena earlier this week.

“We’re very optimistic that these games will have an impact and there will be more that follow, not just here in Abu Dhabi but throughout the region.”

These NBA Abu Dhabi games haven’t just impacted the UAE community; Hawks and Bucks players and coaches have spoken about how beneficial this overseas trip can be for their respective teams, and how rewarding it felt to be part of the spread of the game to new territories.

“We’re going to be a part of history; so just go out compete and have fun and remember this moment forever,” said newly-acquired Hawks guard Dejounte Murray about participating in the first-ever NBA game in the region.

 

 

Coach Nate McMillan said the Hawks organization was keen on sending the team early – they arrived to Abu Dhabi last Saturday, five days before their first game – so they could take in the full experience.

“Our ownership wanted us to come over and experience the culture and the people and the land,” he told Arab News.

“For us to have the opportunity to be a part of this NBA global game; I’ve been a part of three of these – we went to Japan and I’ve gone to Mumbai and now coming here and introducing our game to this city, this country, this community, really excited to be a part of that again.”

Hawks star Trae Young has enjoyed his week so far, which included a ride on a camel he named Jerry.

“Just being with our team and being able to have this time to really build chemistry; going to the Louvre and having dinner there, we did a camel ride in the desert, that was a different experience. We’re building chemistry out here with new guys,” said Young.

“Trying to go where we want, you have to be connected off the floor. So I think if you continue to build that and that’s strong, it’s going to show on the court. That’s my favorite part about this whole trip so far.”

 

 

Two-time MVP and 2021 NBA champion Antetokounmpo brought his family with him to the Emirates and has been soaking up every moment. He brought incredible energy to the gym during the clinic held last Tuesday, keen on giving the kids an unforgettable experience.

“I’m excited about the game but at the end of the day this makes it even more fun, this is what basketball is about; just giving back to the kids,” said the Greek Freak.

“And I know they’re going to remember it because when I was 14, 15, a lot of NBA or Euro League legends came to my practice and helped me become great and who I am today. I know this one hour, two hours, we’re spending here with the kids, they’re going to always remember it and this is what basketball is about.”


Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance

Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance
Updated 30 November 2022

Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance

Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance
  • Either one of two of the biggest stars of European club football could fail to qualify for the knockout stages in Qatar

DOHA: Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski head into Wednesday’s showdown between Argentina and Poland with the futures of what could be their final World Cup adventures hanging in the balance.

Either one of two of the biggest stars of European club football could fail to qualify for the knockout stages in Qatar and end their careers without tasting glory at the most prestigious tournament of all.

Messi has already netted twice in his last attempt to emulate Diego Maradona and win the World Cup for Argentina and is trying to drag the Albiceleste out of Group C after they were stunned by Saudi Arabia in their opening match.

Argentina beat Mexico 2-0 to salvage their campaign and sit second, level on three points with the Saudis and one behind leaders Poland and only a win will guarantee that 35-year-old Messi’s Qatar campaign continues into December.

An Argentine exit would devastate fans back home and a worldwide army of Messi fans desperate to see him lift the World Cup.

It would also be a fitting climax to the career of one of football’s greatest ever players, but coach Lionel Scaloni sees such histrionics as unnecessary.

“It’s hard to make people understand that the sun will rise tomorrow, win or lose,” he said after his side beat Mexico to get their challenge back on track.

“What matters is how you do things.”

Lewandowski was brought to tears by fulfilling his “childhood dream” of scoring his first ever World Cup goal in what was his fifth match at the finals, a 2-0 win over the Saudis.

The Barcelona forward knows he might not get another chance on this stage should the Poles exit the tournament on Wednesday.

“I’m aware it might be my last World Cup and I wanted to be able to say that I’ve played and scored at World Cups,” said the 34-year-old.

Lewandowski is a safer bet to make the last 16 as Poland will be through with a win or a draw, and even if they lose they are only sure to be knocked out if the Saudis beat Mexico.

Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz insisted it wasn’t simply a contest between the forward despite the inevitable focus on the two big stars.

“It’s not only a match between Lewandowski and Messi, it’s not tennis,” he said.

On Tuesday, the US reached the knockout phase by beating Iran 1-0 in a battle of geopolitical foes, earning a second round meeting with the Netherlands.

Christian Pulisic’s winner in the 38th minute of an absorbing contest in Doha eliminated the Iranians.

The meeting of the bitter ideological rivals had been marked by a bad-tempered buildup, with Iran’s Football Federation demanding on Sunday that FIFA punish US Soccer for posting a modified version of their country’s flag on social media.

The defeat ended a fraught campaign for Iran, whose every move in Qatar has been scrutinized for signs the players are showing support for mass anti-government protests that have shaken the Islamic republic.

“The dream is over,” coach Carlos Queiroz said. “Unfortunately football always punishes the team that doesn’t score.”

The Americans finished two points behind England in Group B after Gareth Southgate’s team cruised past Wales 3-0 in a one-sided ‘Battle of Britain’ decided by a Marcus Rashford brace and another strike from Manchester City star Phil Foden.

Rashford said his double, which included a stunning free-kick to open the scoring in the 50th minute at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, was “what I play football for.”

“I have massive ambition for this team and think we can play even better than we showed today,” added Rashford.

England will face Senegal on Sunday after Chelsea defender Kalidou Koulibaly snatched a 2-1 win over Ecuador to finish second behind the Dutch in Group A and knock out the South Americans.

Koulibaly said he would give late Senegalese icon Papa Bouba Diop’s family his man-of-the-match award after firing the Lions of Teranga into the last 16 for the second time in their history.

Cody Gakpo his third goal of the tournament as the Netherlands booked their place last 16 as group winners with a straightforward 2-0 victory over hosts Qatar.

Qatar, which has spent $200 billion to host the World Cup, bow out of their own tournament with the worst ever performance by a host nation — zero points and just one goal scored.


’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran

’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran
Updated 30 November 2022

’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran

’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran
  • The win avenged America’s defeat to Iran at the 1998 World Cup
  • Berhalter expressed particular satisfaction that his team held the line despite a second half onslaught by Iran

DOHA: US coach Gregg Berhalter said his team belonged in the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday after defeating Iran 1-0 to set up a second round showdown with the Netherlands.

Five years after the Americans suffered the shock of failing to qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia, Berhalter has led a youthful US team into knockout rounds of the tournament.

Draws against Wales and England were followed by Tuesday’s nailbiting 1-0 win over arch-rivals Iran to seal qualification.

But while Sunday’s last 16 clash with the Netherlands promises to be a step up in class, Berhalter said his team would have no trace of an inferiority complex.

“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that we’re going into it thinking it’s an honor,” Berhalter said.

“We deserve to be in the position we’re in. And we want to keep going. We don’t want to be going home next Wednesday.

“So for us it’s how we recover from this game, and how to play a very good Dutch team. We have to come up with an idea of how to beat them.”

Asked how far the US could go in Qatar, Berhalter replied: “Coming into the tournament we had two goals, the first was to advance through the group stage.

“And from here anything can happen. All we need to do is play one game at a time. There’s no need to even project how far this team can go.”

The former US international defender expressed particular satisfaction that his team held the line despite a second half onslaught by Iran.

The Americans finished the group phase with only one goal conceded — a penalty against Wales — and back-to-back clean sheets.

“That’s the first time in 92 years that we’ve got two shutouts at a World Cup so the boys are doing something right,” Berhalter said.

“The end of the game is really what I’m most proud of because it was the mark of determination, an extreme amount of effort and a lot of resiliency to hang in there and get the win and not buckle.”

The win avenged America’s defeat to Iran at the 1998 World Cup.

Berhalter spoke before the game about his dismay at that loss, complaining that Iran’s team had been more motivated 24 years ago.

“I talked yesterday in the press conference about the 1998 game and the guys not having the appropriate intensity to compete against Iran — and today we had it,” Berhalter said. “It was clear from the opening whistle.”

Berhalter added that Tuesday’s result was the sort of performance that would make US sports fans take the team to its heart.

“We’ve talked about defining this group, and it starts to take shape based on these performances,” he said.

“You see how resilient this group is, you see how unified this group is, and what type of energy they put into every single game.

“And along the way there’s some pretty good soccer. That’s the American spirit the way this group plays.”


Neymar to miss Brazil’s last group game at World Cup

Neymar to miss Brazil’s last group game at World Cup
Updated 30 November 2022

Neymar to miss Brazil’s last group game at World Cup

Neymar to miss Brazil’s last group game at World Cup
  • Lasmar did not give a timetable on Neymar’s return, and did not say if the player would return at all

DOHA: Neymar will miss Brazil’s last group game at the World Cup because of his right ankle injury, the team doctor said Tuesday.

Rodrigo Lasmar said the Brazil forward will not recover in time to face Cameroon in the Group G game on Friday.

Neymar missed Monday’s game against Switzerland, when Brazil won 1-0 to secure ther spot in the round of 16. A draw against Cameroon will be enough to give Brazil first place in the group.

Lasmar did not give a timetable on Neymar’s return, and did not say if the player would return at all. Brazil’s coaching staff, though, reiterated Tuesday that the Paris Saint-Germain forward was expected to play again at the tournament in Qatar.

Neymar, who damaged ligaments in his ankle during Brazil’s opening match against Serbia, was the only player who didn’t go to Stadium 974 to watch the match against Switzerland. He stayed at the team hotel for physiotherapy treatment.

Lasmar said Neymar also had a fever on Monday, which “was under control” and would not affect his ankle treatment.

Lasmar said right back Danilo, who also is nursing an ankle injury, and left back Alex Sandro, who had to leave Monday’s match with a muscle injury, also won’t play against Cameroon.

Danilo got injured in the team’s opener last week and also missed the game against Switzerland. Alex Sandro got hurt in the final minutes of Brazil’s win against the Swiss and was replaced by Alex Telles. Tests on Tuesday showed that he as a muscle injury in his left hip. Lasmar also did not provide the expected recovery time for Danilo and Alex Sandro.

Tite replaced Neymar with Fred and Danilo with Éder Militão in Monday’s starting lineup. 

The coach was yet to announce who would play on Friday, but was expected to rotate players considering a draw against Cameroon would be enough to secure first place. If Brazil finishes first, the last-16 match would take place only three days later. Brazil’s opponents would come from Group H, which includes Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana.

Neymar, trying to win his first major title with Brazil, is two goals shy of Pelé’s all-time record of 77 with the national team.

His right ankle also kept him from playing in the 2019 Copa América in Brazil. Five years earlier, he was taken out of the World Cup in Brazil after hurting his back in the quarterfinals against Colombia.

On Tuesday, Brazil complained about the field conditions at Stadium 974, where they could be back for the round of 16 if they finishes first in its group. The team said it would ask FIFA to act and make sure the grass conditions improved at the venue.


Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup: tourism ministry

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup: tourism ministry
Updated 29 min 44 sec ago

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup: tourism ministry

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup: tourism ministry

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has not submitted an official bid to host the FIFA World Cup, the tourism ministry said on Wednesday.

“Saudi Arabia is always considering to host a number of large sporting events, as part of promoting sport and tourism in the Kingdom in line with Saudi Vision 2030,” the ministry tweeted.

The Kingdom has hosted a number of major sporting events in Saudi Arabia including Formula 1, football and heavyweight boxing title fights.

Saudi Arabia was chosen in October to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at Trojena, a year-round winter sports complex being built in the northwest of the Kingdom as part of the futuristic NEOM megacity. 

Trojena, which is due to be completed in 2026, is in an area of NEOM where winter temperatures drop below zero and year-round temperatures are generally 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the region.

Saudi Vision aims to reform the Kingdom on a number of fronts including in tourism, culture and innovative technologies with a view to reorient the country’s economy away from a dependence on oil exports.


Bale makes early exit for Wales against England at World Cup

Bale makes early exit for Wales against England at World Cup
Updated 30 November 2022

Bale makes early exit for Wales against England at World Cup

Bale makes early exit for Wales against England at World Cup
  • Bale had been largely ineffective in the opening half, with only seven touches as England dominated possession

AL RAYYAN, Qatar: If it was Gareth Bale’s final game for Wales, it ended rather unceremoniously.
The Wales captain was substituted at halftime of the team’s match against England at the World Cup on Tuesday because of an injury.
While it was unclear when Bale was hurt, it appeared he was struggling late in the first half of the team’s final Group B match. He was replaced by Brennan Johnson.
Wales crumbled once Bale went off. England scored about five minutes into the second half and added another goal a minute later, finishing with a 3-0 victory.
Wales went into the match at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium needing a victory for a chance to advance to the knockout round in the team’s first World Cup appearance since 1958. Instead, the Welsh are headed home.
Bale had been largely ineffective in the opening half, with only seven touches as England dominated possession.
The 33-year-old Bale, who made his senior debut with Wales in 2006, leads the team in all-time appearances with 111 and in goals with 41.
The forward came to Qatar dogged by questions about whether his time with the national team was coming to an end. Asked a day before the match, Bale curtly replied “Nope.”
Following the World Cup, the next match for Wales is a European Championship qualifier against Croatia in March.
Bale’s World Cup had started with promise. In a 1-1 draw with the United States to open the tournament, Bale pulled Wales even with a late penalty. A 2-0 loss to Iran put Wales in danger of elimination.
But time seems to be catching up with Bale, who won five Champions League trophies over nearly a decade at Real Madrid. He now plays for Los Angeles FC.
Bale helped Wales reach the semifinals at the 2016 European Championship before the team lost to eventual champion Portugal. Wales qualified for last year’s pandemic-delayed Euro 2020, where it lost to Denmark in the round of 16.
After nine years with Real Madrid, Bale came to the United States this past season to play for LAFC in Major League Soccer, signing a deal worth just under $2.4 million.
He was limited to only two starts because of injuries but helped LAFC win the MLS Cup when he scored the game-tying goal deep into stoppage time of extra time against the Philadelphia Union. LAFC prevailed in a penalty shootout for its first championship.
It was Bale’s third goal with LAFC and his first since Aug. 6 against Real Salt Lake. At 128 minutes, it was also the latest goal scored in MLS’ 27 seasons.