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With the NBA Abu Dhabi Games on Oct. 6 and 8 hosting the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island, Arab News spoke to Saleh Mohamed Al-Geziry, director general of tourism at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, about sports tourism, the partnership with the American league, and how it will lead to promoting basketball in the UAE and the region.

Here’s what he had to say:

On the partnership between the NBA and Abu Dhabi:

Our collaboration with the NBA is an exciting next step in our ambitious sports tourism strategy for the emirate, as we work to offer an unbeatable year-round calendar of fantastic sporting events. It’s hard to overstate basketball’s massive global appeal — the NBA is an incredibly popular league with millions of fans around the world, and viewership numbers that keep climbing year on year.

So, it was a natural choice to bring a sporting league of this magnitude to Abu Dhabi — it’s a fantastic opportunity to further raise our destination’s global profile, as the eyes of the basketball world will be firmly focused on the UAE capital this October.

The NBA partnership is ideal for Abu Dhabi; we already have a track record of numerous successful tie-ups with high profile global IPs and the emirate is a destination that prides itself on offering unique and innovative experiences. Now, with the NBA Abu Dhabi Games this October, we can offer some of the world’s biggest basketball superstars facing off in the region for the very first time.

And of course, fans converging in Abu Dhabi for this first-in-the-region event will have a positive impact on airlines, hotels, attractions, restaurants, and shopping malls while creating a great atmosphere.

On the massive response from basketball fans to the inaugural NBA Abu Dhabi Games:

The response has been phenomenal — the inaugural NBA Abu Dhabi Games is a sold-out event, and the anticipation is palpable among NBA fans across the country and the region. None of this is a great surprise to us, as we knew the interest was there, but it is still so gratifying to see the fan engagement and excitement in the lead-up to this ground-breaking sporting event.

The great news for fans in the city is that the action is not just focused on the arena, this is an unmissable week-long celebration of sport, entertainment and culture featuring two historic NBA games, citywide activations, an interactive fanzone and special appearances by NBA legends.

On the different NBA events to take place over the coming years:

Abu Dhabi and the NBA have entered into a multi-year strategic partnership, so we are exploring which activations and events make the most sense for the coming years.

One exciting offshoot of our collaboration that will definitely be taking place annually is the Junior NBA Abu Dhabi League, launched in February this year. It introduced the NBA and basketball to a whole new generation of 11- to 14-year-olds in Abu Dhabi, who also had the chance to meet and learn from seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry and Olympic gold medalist Clyde Drexler.

On the partnership between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi raising basketball’s profile in the UAE:

The partnership between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi has already begun to contribute directly to the growth of basketball within the region. Take the Junior NBA Abu Dhabi League, for instance, where more than 450 boys and girls from 30 schools across the emirate participated in its first-ever edition this year — and I have no doubt that we will see participation numbers rising in the future.

Looking to the wider region, this partnership also brings a huge range of activations to the GCC for the first time, including a series of NBA FIT clinics promoting health and wellness, an NBA 2K League Exhibition event at the annual Middle East Film & Comic Con, and interactive fan events featuring former and current NBA players. Such events will only grow interest in the sport of basketball and we look forward to seeing that development continue in the years ahead.

On how the NBA could develop local talent in the UAE and the region:

Hosting world-class sporting events ensures elite international players visit and inspire the local population, helping to grow interest and motivate young players to hone their talent and follow their dreams. Through its various high-profile events, Abu Dhabi has helped fuel the popularity of multiple sports throughout the region, including motorsports, golf, football, cricket, tennis, and swimming.

Basketball is firmly on that list. An increasing number of Emirati teams are entering international competitions, and more than 220 players from the Middle East recently joined Basketball Without Borders, a program that develops talent outside of the USA. Commonly known as the NBA Academy, this year’s cohort includes five players from the UAE.

What to expect at NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022:

The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 is a first for the region, and undoubtedly a special and incredibly exciting time for basketball fans in the UAE and beyond. The sport of basketball is high-octane, with games speeding by at a breakneck pace, and those attending the games in October can expect non-stop action and thrills. I’m sure the audience’s energy will be electric as they cheer on their favorites.

What will make that time extra special are the accompanying activities and interactive fan events, which will provide unmissable opportunities to meet some of the world’s greatest basketball stars. Appearances by current top NBA players, as well as legends of the sport, will ensure that the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will be an unforgettable experience for basketball fans.

Of course, we hope that fans venture beyond the on-court action and take the time to explore what the emirate has to offer. Visitors can ride the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, soak up the sun on our stunning beaches, take in some culture at Louvre Abu Dhabi, or enjoy alfresco dining experiences at Yas Bay. No matter what they’re looking for, there really is something for every visitor in Abu Dhabi.

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