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The NBA will host its first games in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Arabian Gulf next season.
The Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks will play two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi during the 2022 preseason, the league and city's Department of Culture and Tourism announced Tuesday. The games are scheduled for Oct. 6 and Oct. 8.
“We are thrilled to be hosting the UAE’s first NBA games in Abu Dhabi and look forward to welcoming the Atlanta Hawks, the Milwaukee Bucks and basketball fans from across the world to discover this incredible city and experience our authentic Emirati culture for themselves," Saleh Mohamed Al Geziry, director of DCT Abu Dhabi, said in a release. "Basketball has the ability to unite communities, and the spirit of the game will be felt by players and visitors, both on and off the court. The unveiling of the NBA teams marks an important milestone in our wider partnership with this world-class sports organization.”
The games are a part of a multiyear partnership between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi brokered earlier this year that includes the Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi league. The youth league is for 450 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 14. There will also be interactive fan events with appearances by current and former NBA players, NBA FIT clinics and an NBA 2K League exhibition event at Middle East Film and Comic Con.
International NBA games
The Bucks have played in London (2015 vs. Knicks) and the first game in Paris (Jan. 2020 vs. Hornets) since Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted in 2013. Commissioner Adam Silver was hopeful international competitions would resume after being wiped out in the 2020-21 and 21-22 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UAE has criminalized the LGBTQ+ community and committed "significant human rights issues," according to a United States Department of State report published in 2020. They include torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, government interference with privacy rights and "undue restrictions" on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel and censorship.
Silver was asked early last month about holding games there even amid the reported transgressions. Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“It’s a fair question,” Silver said. “We continue to believe that using sports, using basketball, we can improve people’s lives through sport and that, as Nelson Mandela famously said, sport can change the world. I think that we bring our games all over the world.
“I mean, part of why we choose certain markets is of course economics. There’s no question about that. It’s enormously expensive and resource-driven to bring teams around the world. We also want to try bringing our games to places we haven’t been before, and the Middle East is one of those markets.
“We look at many different factors in terms of how we travel, bring our games. But our ultimate goal is to bring our games to everywhere around the world. There are lines we draw, but we’re an American company and usually we allow those lines to be drawn by our government. Whoever happens to be our administration gives us direction on where they think it’s appropriate for us to operate and not operate.”
Bucks, Hawks feature in historic game
The reigning champion Bucks are currently in the Eastern Conference semifinals and tied 2-2 in the series with the Boston Celtics. Game 3 is on Wednesday in Boston.
“We are honored to have been selected to participate in the NBA’s first games in the United Arab Emirates," Bucks president Peter Feigin said in a release. "As the NBA continues to expand globally, we look forward to visiting Abu Dhabi and furthering the league’s goals of inspiring people through basketball. We will be proud to represent our city, our state and Bucks fans worldwide this October.”
Atlanta came into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and fell to the Miami Heat in five games. The Hawks lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Bucks last season.
“The NBA continues to do an amazing job of growing the game internationally, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the first NBA Abu Dhabi Games," Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said in a release. "As we look toward the future of the Hawks brand, being recognized as a premier NBA franchise globally is something we aspire to, and we believe the experience for our players and staff to take in the culture in Abu Dhabi will be both incredibly memorable and impactful.”
NBA Academy, the league's elite basketball development program for players outside of the U.S., and the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) program have been used by more than 220 male and female prospects from the Middle East, per the league. Tickets for the games in Abu Dhabi will go on sale at a later date.