The Middle East may get a shot at playing host to some of the world's best basketball players in National Basketball Association (NBA) preseason games next year. The league may also bring the US national team to the region before the world championship in Turkey, officials say - potentially giving fans here a chance to see stars such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
"There are potentially a number of places where we could hold games, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha," said Heidi Ueberroth, president of global marketing partnerships and international business operations for the NBA. "We want to have a presence with one or more offices in the region. We want to work at the community and grassroots level to develop the game." The NBA has regularly played preseason games in Europe and East Asia in recent years, and last week confirmed a tipoff between Indiana and Denver in Taipei, Taiwan, this October.
The 2010 world championship will be held from August 28 to September 12 and the NBA is exploring the possibility of the US playing warm-up games in the region directly before the tournament. The US, which won gold at the 2008 Olympics, will automatically qualify for the 2012 Games in London if they win the world championship. In August the UAE team will head to China for the world championships' Asian qualifying event.
Basketball is the fastest-growing sport in the region, and the NBA is keen to increase its popularity in the UAE, officials say. "We are taking a long-term approach to developing the game here," Ms Ueberroth said. In March, the NBA supported the Generations for Peace camp in Abu Dhabi, with the NBA All-Star Rolando Blackman and Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Azzi providing expert coaching. The league says it is considering several other ventures, including coaching clinics, school programmes and the JamVan, a mobile, hands-on exhibit about the game.
Ms Ueberroth said that the sport's popularity around the world was growing. "Eight international players were involved in this year's NBA Finals," she said. "We had a record number of overseas journalists covering the final, and [the games] were televised in 250 countries, and in 42 languages." For the first time, the best-of-seven series was broadcast in Arabic in the Middle East by Al Jazeera Sport.
Aly Hamamsy, managing director of the Middle East for the NBA, said: "It's such a simple game. All you need is a ball and a hoop. You can play by yourself, with one friend, or a whole group. It's a wonderful sport." The Abu Dhabi Sports Council has been in talks with the NBA. Council officials say they would be happy to see the NBA bring basketball to the capital. A spokesman for Dubai Sport City said: "We enjoy an excellent relationship with the NBA, and we welcome all their initiatives to bring events and sports development to Dubai. However, we do not have an appropriate venue for an NBA event as the indoor arena is not yet completed."