Milwaukee Bucks team pose for a photo during a training session on Wednesday, ahead of the NBA pre-season basketball game against Atlanta Hawks. AFP
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
The historic NBA Games Abu Dhabi 2022 gets under way at Etihad Arena, Yas Island on Thursday night, for the first of two landmark preseason games between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks.
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.
The reigning champions, the Golden State Warriors, won two pre-season games against the Washington Wizards in Japan last week, while Paris and Mexico City will host regular-season fixtures.
The two games in the Emirati capital are part of a multi-year partnership between the NBA and Abu Dhabi.
And the star players who will be on show, are excited to be part of history, bringing the game to the UAE for the first time.
“It’s amazing to be here. I’m so happy, we are international players and it’s been great to see the kids excited to play basketball. I would love to see more international players like me playing in the NBA,” said Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Small Forward for the Milwaukee Bucks.
His coach, Mike Budenholzer, added: “We are excited, we feel this is a very special sport, something that is incredibly exciting with amazing players doing amazing things. As coaches I’m not sure how much we will be smiling during the games but hopefully we can turn round and see the fans smiling and enjoying it and appreciating what these athletes can do. It’s fun to share it with the world.”
The Bucks star player, Power Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said: “Fans can expect a good game, a lot of excitement, lot of dunks, lot of three throws and hopefully the Bucks win.”
Meanwhile, the Bucks’ opposition, the Atlanta Hawks, who have been in Abu Dhabi for the past week admitted their pride in showcasing the sport of basketball to the Abu Dhabi community.
Hawks coach Nate McMillan said: “Abu Dhabi is a beautiful city. Our ownership wanted us to come over and experience the country, the culture, and the people. Coming here and introducing the game to this community, really excited to be part of it.
“The people here seem passionate about our game, they want to learn, we want to teach it. Abu Dhabi wants it to be part of the community. We wanted to come over and teach the game to the kids. All of that is important. It’s an opportunity that sometimes you will only get once in a lifetime, so we wanted to make sure our guys get exposed to that and understand it, and give the experience of the NBA game, hope the country enjoys and invites us back.”
“It’s great to be here. It’s different for me, and we’re just having fun. It’s a blessing. We are thankful and grateful to be here. We’re going to be part of history.”
Hawks Point Guard, Dejounte Murray, added: “It’s great to be here. It’s very different, I’m from Seattle, Washington so it’s great to come and experience this. We’re going to come out and play hard. These games are important for us. We want to get on the right track early.”