Just days from potentially making the most important decision of his NBA career, Mason Plumlee isn’t holed up with his agent, weighing financial pros and cons or preferred destinations.
He’s in fact doing the opposite, spending his days in a gym in the middle of nowhere, all the way across the world, with kids who likely have never heard his name – not because Plumlee is a fringe NBA player, but because basketball still has a considerable distance to go in terms of participation and following in the UAE.
Yet here’s Plumlee, hosting a basketball camp in collaboration with Duplays and East Sports Management at GEMS Wellington Al Khail, despite the NBA’s free agency period beginning on Saturday.
For the first time in his career, the 27-year-old will be a free agent, albeit a restricted one whose rights are still held by the incumbent Denver Nuggets.
Business, however, appears to be far from Plumlee’s mind as the 6’11” big man towers over a group of kids aged eight to 16, leading them through various drills and mini-games at his camp, which concludes with its second and final day today.
This isn’t the first time Plumlee has visited Dubai. Back in 2011, as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, he made the trip with Duke University to take on the UAE national team.
Six years later, he’s noticed basketball’s slow, but steady development in the region.
“I’ll tell you what, at the grassroots level it’s a lot better than I expected,” Plumlee tells Sport360°. “I know we played the national team when I came with Duke University, but the kids here are very good and they love the game, so it’s fun to have a camp with them.
“I think there’s no limit. The biggest thing is you have to get the kids playing and you have to give them instructions and fundamentals. As the game grows – the NBA has grown the game in a lot of other countries – I think this area is next on that list.
“If you can teach the game at a young age, then they can improve upon what they’ve learned.”
That’s the exact aim of Plumlee’s camp. The kids learn how to dribble, pass, take layups and other basic skills that serve as the foundation for any advanced training.
As educational as it is, the children have more than their fair share of fun, at times going at Plumlee before learning a lesson that many guards in the NBA can relate to – challenging a 7-footer is easier said than done.
Eight-year-old Maya Bitar had the right idea, figuring out how “to get closer to the net to shoot”, while her friend, Zuhair Abu Aysha, also aged eight, described his favourite part as “learning how to do the shots and passing”.
Abu Aysha typically participates in taekwondo and swimming, but after spending four hours on the court with an NBA player, he says he’ll now play more basketball.
That’s Plumlee’s ambition at the end of the day – a greater love and appreciation for the game. That’s also something the NBA want, with the league potentially bring an exhibition game to Dubai in two to three years, according to Ben Morel, senior vice president and managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa (MENA).
“I think it would be great for the area and great for the game,” Plumlee says of the prospect. “If you can see the premium product, which is the NBA – it’s the best league in the world – if it has the chance to come here I think fans would turn out and I think we’d get a lot of good feedback from the people here if they’re able to see the game.”
That’s something to think about for another day, as is a new contract for Plumlee.
For now, a giant among children is happy to share his own passion, with the hope it’s contagious.