Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: NBA Abu Dhabi Games can have serious impact

Pre-season games between Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves proved to be a huge hit

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Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said the huge success of the second NBA Abu Dhabi Games can have a far-reaching impact on basketball across the region.

Abdul-Jabbar was one of several all-time greats to visit the UAE capital to watch the two-game series between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves at the Etihad Arena in October.

The former Los Angeles Lakers star, whose record as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer was broken by LeBron James in the 2022/23 season, told The National that Abu Dhabi’s multi-year deal with the NBA can have a “very serious impact on basketball in the Middle East”.

“Because the way that the world is connected now, through the internet, is going to make it possible for fans here in the Middle East to tune in when your favourite team plays,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “And that goes across the board.

“I think that interconnectivity will definitely affect fan viewership, helping it to spread.”

Abdul-Jabber, a six-time NBA champion and MVP who scored 38,387 point over his 21-year career, is widely considered to be one of the greatest to ever play the game.

But the former UCLA star is not interested in entering the debate about who is history’s greatest player.

“I think there are a lot of players that belong in the conversation of who's the greatest of all time, but until we can get them out there and play them against each other one-on-one, we're not going to find that out,” he said.

“People come in and say who's better, you or LeBron or Oscar Robertson? And I asked them if they ever heard of [Nat] Sweetwater Clifton. They don't even know who Sweetwater Clifton was.

“People have a limited perspective. And I think that that's the thing. We just can't compare players of one era to another. But we can appreciate all of them.”

Abdul-Jabbar was joined in Abu Dhabi by the likes of former Boston Celtics star Ray Allen, Houston Rockets’ title-winning point guard Kenny Smith.

Allen hit 2,973 three-pointers in his NBA career – more than anyone other than Stephen Curry. He also hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

With his Miami Heat down three points to the San Antonio Spurs and facing elimination in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2013, his three-pointer tied the game, allowing the Heat to win in overtime.

He said he did not know the shot was going in.

“I never count my chickens before they hatch,” he said. “Every time I shoot the ball, I have to see it go through the hoop. I have no arrogance when it comes to shooting.

“So that shot was like, you pray, you know, you see it. When I left my fingers it felt weird. It felt short. It all happened in slow motion.”

With Allen and the NBA legends at courtside, Minnesota, featuring French centre Rudy Gobert, won both games in the UAE against Dallas and their Slovenian star Luka Doncic.

Former Rocket Smith, now an award-winning broadcaster, said global interest has changed the NBA for the better.

“The best players in the world aren't all from America,” he said.

“[NBA stars] Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nicola Jokic (Serbia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Rudy Gobert. They're from all over the place, everywhere.”

With 10,000 boys and girls participating in the NBA’s schools programmes in Abu Dhabi, the NBA hopes to find its next star among the Middle East’s top young talent.

Smith said that coaching is what helped basketball become a truly international game.

“The global game has changed, particularly because of the coaching,” said Smith. “The coaches when they started back in the 90s, they were doing basketball clinics over here and they would come over and teach the game.

"So they are the pioneers of why the game is global. It's not the players or the Dream Team. It's the coaches.”

Updated: October 11, 2023, 5:16 AM