Shaquille O’Neal says the chance to see the likes of Trae Young and Giannis Antetokounmpo in action will help spark the interest of a new generation of basketball fans in the UAE.
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 2021 NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks in two pre-season games on October 6 and 8 at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island.
The Hawks boast two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young while the Bucks can call on two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo for next week's matches.
Power forward Antetokounmpo was born in Athens to Nigerian parents and is widely known as the "Greek Freak" for his size, speed, strength, and ball-handling skills,
Former Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers centre O’Neal believes the chance to see one of the league's overseas stars up close and personal can inspire youngsters to follow their own dreams of playing in the NBA.
“NBA coming to Abu Dhabi will be great for the sport of basketball. This league is truly global and some of the best players in the world are already coming from outside the United States,” O’Neal said while commenting on the impact of NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022, which is part of a multiyear partnership between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi.
“Bringing players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young overseas, for local kids to see up close, will only spark their interest in the sport. This will certainly help nurture a generation of future talent with more countries playing the sport."
The Hawks and Bucks met in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Bucks going on to win their first NBA championship in 50 years.
O'Neal, who will participate in youth development programmes and interact with local fans during the week of the games, said no one should be fooled into thinking the teams are in Abu Dhabi to take it easy on each other.
“Pre-season games are very important, especially for the younger players and new additions on each team," he added.
"Also, it gets repetitive going up against your teammates in training camp every day, so any time you can simulate real, in-game situations against other players, it is valuable. And these guys will put on a show for the people of Abu Dhabi, it is just what they do.”