Ex-NBA star blazing UAE basketball trail

Barnaby Read 23:11 23/04/2015
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Oldham (l) in his playing days with Chicago Bulls.

Former NBA star Jawann Oldham is a man well aware of what it takes to grow his sport in emerging basketball nations.

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A veteran of the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers (to name but a few) in the NBA and Olympic gold medallist with the USA in 1980, Oldham played a role in establishing the sport through national leagues in South Korea, China and Japan.

Having brought the first basketball academy to the UAE in back in 2007, Oldham is now head coach of the Wellington GEMS Sports Academy basketball programme and is once again at the fore of growing the game in its outskirts.

The Jawann Oldham Professional Development Basketball Academy now covers Abu Dhabi and Dubai and has firmly established Oldham’s reputation as a pioneer of the sport in basketball’s lesser known nations.

“We went to Korea in the nineties and started the KBL, Korean Basketball League, and developed the young men and the kids that were there and got them into basketball,” Oldham told Sport360 at the launch of the inaugural NSL Basketball season at Dubai Mall’s Stadium store. 

“That took about three years in ’93, ’94 and ’95. Then, in 1996, we moved on to China and started the CBA. We were in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Guangdong, Xiamen and Beijing, all over the place really. 

“There were four of us; myself, Mike McGee, Kenny Fields and Sam Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers. 

“We developed the CBA, Chinese Basketball League, all over the providences of China and got them playing. The number one sport now in China is basketball. 

“From there we went to Japan and started the BJ league, Basketball Japan. Right now I think they have twenty teams in the BJ league and we had to get them off of playing baseball for eighty years and into playing basketball and develop them because they really didn’t have a whole lot of know-how or knowledge on basketball when we established the BJ league.”

Like the early days of the sport in those countries, Oldham believes the UAE is in need of development from the ground up and believes that Sport360’s NSL Basketball is the kind of competition that can help improve the skills of young players in the emirates. 

“What I’m seeing is the UAE is evolving just like they had to evolve in China, Korea and Japan,” said the 57-year-old former centre.

“I think they had a head start and that the UAE needs to start evolving even faster with their basketball and their schools and inner city sports to get the kids on a faster pace of development so that they can compete. 

“You can’t compete in basketball unless you develop yourself first so I think they need to step up the evolution of basketball and the kids can compete then on a bigger stage. 

“I think [the NSL] will help them a lot and I think it will put a bigger footprint for them to follow and open the door for them to be more aggressive and open minded towards the sports that they pick to play. 

“They have been limited with what they’ve been able to pick before with just football and cricket and I think Dubai and this region is such an indoor type of sports region that I think basketball will be more attractive for them.”

The National School League will be played across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, with 34 teams from 24 schools entering in U14 and U16 age groups.

Based on the success of the first NSL Cricket 2014-15 competition, it will once again give schools the opportunity to pit their most talented students against each other and develop their experience of tournament basketball.

The first week of the tournament began in Sharjah last weekend and continues with the first round of matches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this weekend.

For full results, standings and the latest articles and videos relating to the NSL, visit the dedicated website, here.

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