RIYADH: Global basketball legend LeBron James, in his first visit to Saudi Arabia, held a clinic this week for starry-eyed young Saudi Arabia players, including emerging stars from the women’s national team.
Dr. Ghassan Tashkandi, president of the Saudi Basketball Federation, said: “We are incredibly honored to welcome LeBron James to Riyadh today. Seeing the reactions and smiles on the faces of all the players was priceless. His passion for the game, and willingness to take time to train with our players is a massive boost for our sport in Saudi.”
“LeBron is a superstar, legend and hero all in one and someone who truly transcends sport worldwide. I’ve no doubt his visit today will have created memories for a lifetime for so many Saudi boys and girls who just had their dreams come true. Sports stars are so powerful in helping us inspire, unite and excite future athletes in Saudi Arabia — and they don’t get bigger than the all-time leading scorer of the NBA,” Tashkandi added.
As part of his visit to the Kingdom, James led a special clinic organized by the Saudi Arabia Basketball Federation at Al-Azem Academy, in the country’s capital, Riyadh. The training session saw participants share the court with one of basketball’s greatest players as they took on a series of dribbling and shooting workouts.
Starting out his NBA career two decades ago, James has one of the most impressive league records, having won four championships, four Most-Valuable Player awards, four Finals MVP awards, two Olympic golds, and has been named an All-Star on a remarkable 19 occasions.
Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, James’ visit underscores the Kingdom’s commitment to promoting healthier and more active lifestyles, as well as becoming a global destination for some of the biggest global events. Included among the major events is the FIBA 3X3 World Tour, which was hosted in the coastal city of Jeddah on two occasions and Diriyah last year.
The players struggled to find words to describe their feelings after meeting and playing basketball with their idol in their home country. “LeBron played an immense role in my life. I can’t even begin to explain how happy I am to be here. I’ve aspired to be like him every single day growing up,” said 16-year-old Ibrahim Qattan.
Teammate Abdullah Basha expressed similar feelings, saying: “Growing up as a kid you just see him on TV or on your phone screen, so to see him here today doing his thing is just amazing. I thought I was dreaming and wanted someone to pinch me.”
Al-Azem Academy player Aseel Falatah added: “As women, we now have countless opportunities to play sport in the Kingdom. The experience today doesn’t even feel real. I honestly learnt so much from him.”
Sports in Saudi Arabia is undergoing massive transformation with the number of federations increasing by over 50 percent in four years. Sports participation and physical activity amongst adults has risen to 48 percent from just 13 percent in 2015.
Participation in basketball has increased 54 percent since 2018 thanks to a wide range of grassroots programs. There are now 240 athletes who make up the first generation of female basketball players.
The number of registered teams has also seen a huge uptick from 45 in 2018 to 105 in 2023, including 28 for females. Six male and female national teams are currently representing Saudi Arabia in regional and global tournaments.