Manarat Al Saadiyat has been taken over by the NBA.
The art space has been transformed into NBA District, a week-long fan event that runs until Sunday and celebrates all things related to the sports league.
The event opened with NBA Hall of Fame players Shaquille O'Neal and Isiah Thomas taking part in a small Q&A with fans.
“The basic premise here is that we want to inspire and connect people through the power of basketball,” George Aivazoglou, head of fan engagement and direct-to-consumer for the NBA for Europe and the Middle East, told The National.
“So obviously, we get to do that with something as big as a game, or two games, in this case. But we also know that there is only a finite number of fans we can bring into the arenas because then unfortunately, we can't fit one million fans there.”
The NBA Games will pit the 2021 champions the Milwaukee Bucks against the Atlanta Hawks in two preseason games on Thursday and Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.
While both games are sold out, the idea behind the fan event is to give people another way to connect with others who love the sport and get them involved even if they can't attend the games.
“One of the beautiful things about our brand that many people love is how, in a way, it transcends sport, and then it crosses over into basically culture and life,” Aivazoglou said.
“As we build an experience like this, which is multidimensional, we try to encompass all of those dimensions of fandom.”
This is apparent in the set-up of the NBA District, which contains many activations that will appeal to different fans.
These include a massive arcade space with titles such as NBA 2K, NBA Blitz, NBA Hoops and Pop-A-Shots for those who want a friendly competition. There are also exhibitions set up around the space that focus on current top talent in the basketball league, showcasing players' jerseys as well as highlight video reels.
In the centre of Manarat Al Saadiyat is an installation that takes a deep dive into five renowned NBA players: O’Neal, Thomas, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter and Dominique Wilkins, all of whom have come for the NBA Games.
Another exciting element is the live Q&A sessions with the former players, with one taking place each day.
Those who don't have tickets to the games can also attend live viewing parties on game day or join a special event hosted by O'Neal that will also feature a performance by American rapper Fabolous on Friday.
There’s plenty of photo opportunities spread across the space that include the “infinity room”, a mirrored space that has a Swarovski-covered basketball that reads “Abu Dhabi Games 2022” and “NBA Golden Rims”, where fans can take a photo with 18 gold-coloured basketball rims to represent the 18 teams that have won a championship.
Fans will also have a chance to get a photo with the Larry O’Brien trophy, which is awarded to the NBA champions.
Those who want to show off their own skills can visit the “NBA Buckets” section, which has more shooting games including one called “NBA Ice Buckets”, a beat-the-buzzer challenge.
Two half-courts have also been set up where fans will be able to practise their three-point shots.
Even for those who just want to grab a gift, there's a few shopping areas, including a small NBA Store corner that sells merchandise from both of the participating teams.
And Wilson Ball Customisation allows fans to create their own custom basketball.
NBA Reclaimed: Live Art is putting together a mosaic portrait of 6,400 pieces of game-used basketball parquet sourced from 2020 Bubble Games in Orlando, Florida. Items reused and repurposed from different basketball courts are also on sale.
Food and beverage options are also on site, ensuring fans can spend the entire day there.
“It’s a very relaxed, fun environment, we made sure it's easy for people to navigate around, hence the LED maps,” said Aivazoglou.
“There's always going to be things happening everywhere. So I think, you know, people should just flow around, see what's available, and then start choosing where to spend their time.
“Something as big as this, it's the first time we're doing it in the Europe and Middle East region. We're super proud to be starting with this one here in Abu Dhabi and we hope the fans here love it.”
A one-day ticket for NBA District is Dh55, while a five-day pass is Dh215. More information is available at nbaevents.com/abudhabi