Last week, continuing its international tour around the globe,
the NBA finished its first visit to the United Arab Emirates and
the Arabian Gulf for the 2022 Abu Dhabi Games. Participating in the
event were the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, with star
performances highlighting the competition at Etihad Arena on Yas
Island. The Hawks came out on top in both games, with 123-113 and
Despite it being preseason, Atlanta and Milwaukee allowed their
regular rotations to play and put on a show. New Hawks addition
Dejounte Murray dazzled in his preseason debut with a 25-point,
9-assist, 8-rebound outing, while former MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo
answered with 19 points and 7 boards in Game 1. Two nights later,
Trae Young dropped 31 points and 6 assists on a sizzling 11-for-15
from the field, including a 7-for-9 mark from beyond the arc in the
first half of Game 2.
However, aside from what happened on the court, the real story
is that the NBA continues to reach further into different countries
as basketball grows more and more in popularity.
To learn more about the inaugural Abu Dhabi Games and the
league's efforts to expand its audience worldwide,
BasketballNews.com spoke with the NBA's vice president of global
strategy and innovation Samantha Engelhardt.
First off, how nice is it for the league to be back on a
global schedule following the pandemic? Logistically, how difficult
was that to handle/schedule, and then, get back to a routine of
working things out again?
Samantha Engelhardt: "We’re excited that we
were able to resume playing Global Games for the first time in more
than two years. Playing games overseas is an important part of our
year-round efforts to engage our passionate international fans and
grow the game around the world. Planning for these games and the
surrounding events is a highly collaborative process across league
and team employees, partners and our regional offices.
"In both Japan and Abu Dhabi, we hosted four sold-out games,
interactive fan events, NBA Cares community outreach initiatives
and youth development programming that reached thousands of people.
We’re very pleased with the reception from fans in both markets and
look forward to continuing that positive momentum at our
regular-season games in Mexico City and Paris."
What has been the key to building a worldwide fan base
over all these years?
Engelhardt: "There are a number of factors.
This season marks 30 years since the "Dream Team" captivated a global audience with
their performance at the Olympics in Barcelona. It’s remarkable
to see how that team inspired generations of fans and players
around the world. We’re fortunate that in the years since, so many
players from outside the U.S. have made an impact in the NBA and
"As far as our efforts, we have a three-pronged strategy to help
grow the game of basketball globally: Grassroots basketball
development (creating opportunities for boys and girls to play the
game), making NBA basketball more accessible to international fans
on the devices and platforms they use most, and, as in the case of
Global Games, bringing the NBA experience to fans around the world
through live games, interactive fan events and authentic
Why is this matter important to the league? And how much
has the international influx of talent in the NBA furthered this
objective to reach fans outside of the USA?
Engelhardt: "Our mission is to inspire and
connect people everywhere through the power of basketball.
Ninety-nine percent of NBA fans will never enter an NBA arena, and
they consume our game entirely through some form of technology.
It’s very important that we do everything we can to reach and
engage those fans with the content and experiences they want, which
is why we just launched a reimagined NBA App
that does exactly that.
"And the level of international talent in the league has been
critical to basketball and the NBA’s continued growth around the
world. This will be the ninth consecutive season we’ve had at least
100 international players in the league. And it’s not just the
quantity, but the quality. International players are having as
significant an impact on the NBA as they ever have. Two
international players — Serbia’s Nikola Jokić and Greece’s Giannis
Antetokounmpo — have won the last four MVP awards. All of these
players drive interest and inspire people in their home countries
Seeing the response before and during the games in Abu
Dhabi — the first time the league has gone there — it was
deafening. How did the opportunity to go there come
Engelhardt: "Bringing live NBA games to
different regions is a vital part of our efforts to grow basketball
around the world. Following the games in Abu Dhabi, we’ve now
played in virtually every region of the world.
"As far as Abu Dhabi specifically, it’s a city with extensive
experience hosting world-class sporting events, and we see an
opportunity to expand the NBA’s presence in a region with a growing
number of basketball fans. And our games there are built on the
NBA’s decades-long history to grow basketball in the UAE and across
the Middle East through live games distribution and grassroots
development. We believe bringing games and the surrounding
community events to Abu Dhabi will serve as a catalyst for
basketball’s continued growth throughout the region."
To follow up on that, how did the NBA react to the
response from those in attendance? Do you feel you'll be back there
again next season?
Engelhardt: "The response from the fans in Abu
Dhabi was really special, particularly for our first games in the
market. In addition to two sold-out games, our NBA District fan
event welcomed thousands of people throughout the week of the
games, our basketball development programming reached more than
2,000 boys, girls, coaches and basketball stakeholders from across
the region, and we opened a new NBA Store at Yas Mall that will
serve as a year-round destination for fans based locally and
visiting from abroad. The results were really encouraging.
"Our Arabic-language Instagram account (@NBAArabic) more than
doubled their collective followers during the week of the games,
and our social content around the games delivered more than 95
million views. We’re pleased with the success of the week’s
activities and believe these games will continue as a fixture in
How did the teams' players, coaches and executives feel
about the trip? Anybody who has the travel bug has to enjoy
exploring new places.
Engelhardt: "Both teams had a great experience;
we’ve received nothing but positive feedback from everyone
involved. It was many of their first time in Abu Dhabi and the
broader region, and in addition to exploring a new place and
culture, they were able to bond as a team heading into the season.
I think for them, to see Bucks and Hawks jerseys in the stands at
Etihad Arena was another reminder that there are NBA fans all over
Trae Young, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dejounte Murray
are marquee names that don't always suit up for long in the
preseason. The fact that the legitimate rotations of these teams
played competitively despite being an exhibition certainly was a
bonus for those fans to see the "real thing" as well. Would you
Engelhardt: "Absolutely. It was great to see
Trae, Giannis and Dejounte come out and put on some amazing
performances for the fans, who came from 59 different countries to
see them. Not only them, but I thought all of the players’ efforts
led to two competitive games that were exciting for the fans. I
think both teams appreciated the opportunity to be part of history,
and their play on the court reflected that."
So you've been to Japan and Abu Dhabi, and will go to
Mexico City and Paris as well in the next few months during the
regular season. What places are next?
Engelhardt: We look at several factors when
evaluating where to play Global Games. It's the availability and
capacity of arenas; cities and countries that have an affinity for,
or have a growing interest in basketball; and destinations that
interest our teams and players. We don’t have any news to share at
the moment, but there are a number of markets both where we’ve
played before and where we haven’t played before that we’d love to
bring live games to."