Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (centre) grabs the rebound during the NBA pre-season match against Atlanta Hawks at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. AFP
Abu Dhabi raised the bar as a major global sports destination with the historic debut of the NBA at Etihad Arena on Thursday night.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks played out a pulsating encounter in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd in game one of a preseason double-header in the UAE capital – the first time the National Basketball Association has played a game of any kind in the Arabian Gulf.
While the game marked a court debut for the NBA in the UAE, it also represented yet another milestone for Abu Dhabi on the global sporting map with the famous basketball organisation becoming the latest global brand to leverage the Emirate’s ability to stage major events.
Roared on by a knowledgeable crowd inside Etihad Arena, the Bucks and Hawks wrote a new chapter in history during a thrilling, fast-paced encounter that finished with Atlanta Hawks winning 123-113 on Yas Island; star player Trae Young finishing the game with 22 points. And while players and fans revelled in the atmosphere, Abu Dhabi once again showed why it is now a go-to destination for sports and tourism.
“Abu Dhabi has proven itself as a premier sporting destination over several years with more and more major brands and organisations acknowledging the opportunities in the Emirate and experiencing first- hand our capabilities to host history-making events,” said Saleh Mohamed Al Geziry, Director General, Tourism Sector, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi).
“We knew basketball had a huge following in the region, but the level of interest in the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 exceeded even our own expectations.
“Entering a partnership with the NBA has enabled us to feed that appetite and showcase our abilities to a whole new audience. With yet another hugely successful and entertaining sporting first, Abu Dhabi’s status as a global sports hub is unrivalled.”
Same views were echoed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who added: “Our data shows we have fans coming in from 59 countries for these games. This continues the notion of promoting Abu Dhabi as a hub for great sporting events. [The games] are a celebration of the sport and the global nature of the game. It was exciting to witness history in having these games here for the first time.” Hawks ace Young basked in the glory of an opening night victory, grabbing the opportunity to engage a new fanbase in the packed Etihad Arena. “On behalf of the Hawks, we’re honoured to be part of this experience as we take basketball to another level. It was unbelievable, the crowd came out and turned it up. It was great fun.”
Milwaukee’s star Giannis Antetokounmpo may have been on the losing side, but was happy to get his preseason up and running. He said: “It’s been fun being in Abu Dhabi. New experiences in the city. Try to expand the game as much as possible. A lot of people around the world know basketball, we’ve just got to present it to them.
“As a team we have to get better. The game was very nice. The guys in the locker room were excited.
Next game we’ve just got to play better.”
More history will be made when Game Two kicks off on Saturday at the Etihad Arena.
The games are part of the league's first overseas foray in two years, after a pause for the pandemic. Although all the staff are vaccinated, a small minority of NBA players — three per cent — are not.
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