Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said the huge success of the second NBA Games in Abu Dhabi could have a far-reaching impact on basketball throughout the region.
Abdul-Jabbar was one of several of the greatest players of all time 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, spoke National that Abu Dhabi’s multi-year agreement with the NBA could have a “very significant impact on basketball in the Middle East.”
“Because the way the world is now connected through the Internet will allow trends here in the Middle East to tune in to when your favorite team is playing,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “And it’s all over the place.
“I think the interconnectedness will definitely impact the fan base to help spread it.”
Abdul-Jabber, a six-time NBA champion and MVP who scored 38,387 points during his 21-year career, is widely considered one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
But the former UCLA star has no interest in getting into the debate about who is the greatest player in history.
“I think there are a lot of players who are in the conversation about who is the greatest of all time, but until we can get them together and play each other one-on-one, we won’t find that out. way out,” he said.
“People come and ask who is better: you, LeBron or Oscar Robertson? And I asked them if they’d ever heard of (Nat) Sweetwater Clifton. They don’t even know who Sweetwater Clifton was.
“People have a limited worldview. And I think that’s the point. We simply can’t compare players from one era to another. But we can appreciate them all.”
Abdul-Jabbar was joined in Abu Dhabi by the likes of former Boston Celtics star Ray Allen and Houston Rockets title-winning point guard Kenny Smith.
Allen made 2,973 three-pointers during his NBA career, more than anyone except Stephen Curry. He also hit one of the most powerful shots in NBA history.
With his Miami Heat trailing the San Antonio Spurs by three points and facing elimination in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, his 3-pointer tied the game, allowing the Heat to win in overtime.
He said he didn’t know the shot had been fired.
“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 don’t have arrogance when it comes to shooting.
“So this shot was like, you pray, you know, you see it. When I let go of my fingers it felt strange. It seemed short. Everything happened in slow motion.”
With Allen and NBA legends on the floor, Minnesota and French center Rudy Gobert won both games in the UAE against FC Dallas and their Slovenian star Luka Doncic.
The former Rocket Smith, now an award-winning broadcaster, said the global interest has changed the NBA for the better.
“Not all the best players in the world come from America,” he said.
“(NBA stars) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nikola Jokic (Serbia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Rudy Gobert. They are from everywhere, everywhere.”
With 10,000 boys and girls participating in NBA school programs in Abu Dhabi, the NBA hopes to find its next star among the Middle East’s top young talent.
Smith said it was coaching that helped basketball become a truly international game.
“The global game has changed, especially with coaching,” Smith said. “The coaches, when they started back in the 90s, held basketball classes here, came and taught the game.
“So they are the pioneers of why the game is global. It’s not about the players or the dream team. It’s about the coaches.”
Updated: October 11, 2023 5:16 am.