The NBA’s top executive wants Abu Dhabi to become a hub for basketball in the Middle East, giving the region’s best young players a platform to one day reach the pinnacle of the sport.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in the UAE capital to watch the first of two games between the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA Abu Dhabi Games, part of a multi-year deal with the city’s Department of Culture and Tourism.
He said he hoped a regional hub would lead to more players from the region competing in the NBA – one day leading to a player born in the UAE reaching the world’s best league.
“Part of the discussions we're having here is the potential for Abu Dhabi to be a hub, an academy for great players from a very expanded region, proximate to the Emirates, to all come to one location,” he said.
Silver said the hub would allow the best young players from across the region to compete against each other regularly.
“One of the wonderful things about this sport is that you can practice alone shooting, you can play one-on-one, but if you want to become a great team basketball player, you must play with other great players and you must play in top notch competition,” said Silver.
“Great players cannot develop in isolation. The only way for great players to truly develop is to size up against other great players. We've learned that's what is necessary.
“It's one of the things in the United States that we have. I think it's not an accident that you see, for example, in the World Cup, you have a German team that has played together beginning in their youth and learned how to play as a team and with many of those players playing in the NBA. We see the same thing in other countries.
“But we know that's a prerequisite to develop great NBA players and those are discussions we're having here right now.”
The NBA brought with it basketball legends including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ray Allen and Tim Hardaway to meet UAE fans and conduct coaching clinics in the country.
Deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said the NBA had ramped up its investment in Abu Dhabi after a successful event in 2022 when the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks were in town.
He said about 10,000 boys and girls are participating in the NBA’s schools programmes in Abu Dhabi “to grow the game at grassroots level”.
“I think when we go into a particular market, there's a multi-level strategy that we employ, which is one, get more kids to play the game of basketball,” he said.
“The second thing is to bring the live game experience here, and that includes clinics and player appearances. Throughout the year, we've had former players come here to Abu Dhabi to meet with the community to do clinics, and to really promote the game.
“And then the third thing is making sure that our content is widely available in the local language,” he said of Arabic-language websites and sports networks showing games with Arabic commentary.
“So, you know, part of the bringing the games here is to really grow the fan interest for the local market. And we're seeing that we're getting partners involved. We're getting grassroots involved, we're getting media partners involved, and it starts growing organically.”
A sold-out Etihad Arena watched the Timberwolves beat the Mavericks 111-99 in Abu Dhabi on Thursday Night. The second game takes place on Saturday.
Silver said the games seemed a “bigger deal” than the 2022 event.
“I think we've learned, even just in a year, I think [we learn something new] each time we do these pre-season games, when we're especially in a new market that we haven't played before.
“You know, after the experience, we go back, we've learned with our partners what it is we can do better. So I've noticed it as well, it just seems like a bigger deal here this year than it was last year.”