NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal has promised to put on a show and entertain basketball fans in Abu Dhabi and the region when he makes his first visit to the Middle East in October.
The four-time NBA champion will visit the UAE in his role as ambassador for the 2022 NBA Abu Dhabi Games, which sees the Atlanta Hawks take on the defending NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks in two pre-season games on October 6 and 8 at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island.
O’Neal, a superstar centre who graced teams including Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat during a 19-year playing career, will also participate in a variety of interactive fan events and youth development programmes.
“I’m looking forward to my first visit to the region and I can promise everyone a great time, lots of fun and lots of energy,” O’Neal told The National during a Zoom call on Monday.
“This is a testing game and the first games of the season and hopefully we’ll get a great reaction from the fans.”
The Hawks boast two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young, 2020-21 NBA rebounding leader Clint Capela and 2018 NBA All-Rookie Second Team members John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
The Bucks can call on two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, three-time NBA All-Star Khris Middleton and four-time NBA All-Defensive Team member Jrue Holiday.
The two teams met in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Bucks going on to win their first NBA championship in 50 years.
“We have two great teams with the Hawks and the Bucks, and with the fans turning up in numbers, hopefully, I’m sure we’ll be back in years to come,” O'Neal added.
The Abu Dhabi Games are part of a multiyear partnership between the NBA and the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi that earlier this year saw the launch of the first Junior NBA Abu Dhabi League, a youth basketball league for 450 boys and girls aged between 11-14 from local schools.
“I’m excited to be with the kids, to join them in the fun and taking a few shots with them,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal was achieved star status and became a dominant figure since his NBA debut in 1992, and now his son Shareef can follow the big man’s pathway after signing with NBA G-League Ignite.
Shareef, 22, showed flashes of his pedigree in Las Vegas and at the California Classic, but the LA native still has a long way to go before becoming a solid NBA rotation player.
“He’s a better shooter, better runner, better body, but sometimes you need to be a little bit crazy to want this,” O'Neal said of his son.
“A lot of guys can play basketball but you got to have that strong individual love for the game. I think if he continues to work hard, he’ll be OK”
Tickets for The NBA Abu Dhabi Games can be purchased at NBAEvents.com/AbuDhabi.