During his glittering career, Julius Erving travelled around the world showcasing his jaw-dropping skills as a basketball player.

It’s been more than three decades since Erving decided to hang up his boots, but that hasn’t stopped the Hall of Famer from promoting his beloved sport across the world.

The 11-time NBA All-Star was recently in Abu Dhabi to attend the Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League finals.

Erving, 74, was joined by Jason Williams and the two NBA heroes were shouting encouragement from the bench as guest coaches during the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League All-Star Game.

Erving, the talismanic figure for the Philadelphia 76ers which won the 1983 NBA title, says he will never get tired of spending time with youngsters.

“For me, it’s been a continuous journey. I think probably at the age of 20, I experienced my first international travel for the US Olympic development team. We went to Poland, Finland and Sweden during that summer, and played 30 basketball games,” Erving told the Khaleej Times.

“I knew that being an ambassador for the game was always on the cards. That was about 50 years ago. Since that time, I have gone to significant countries in every continent for the NBA. So I have been a globetrotter for many years now.”

Top-class facilities

The UAE, according to the American legend, has what it takes to produce top-class players, thanks to the country’s world-class facilities and passion for sports.

The American legend was hugely impressed with the rising stars at Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League which saw the participation of more than 1,300 young cagers.

“I brought my phone and videotaped the games I was watching. The first thing that stood out for me was that when you play in the United States, especially in small communities, you generally play outside, and you know the conditions go from bad to worse,” he said.

“But what I saw here (Abu Dhabi) was very impressive, the settings were beautiful, the lights were directly on the court, and everything looked so elite compared to my initial experience of basketball (in the US) in the parks, in the recreational facilities, and the outdoor areas. As a kid, sometimes we even had to create (the space) ourselves at a friend’s house where a basket was put up on the garage, that’s where we played,” he recalled.

“So to see it here (UAE) at the level that it is at, it’s really nice. These kids (at the Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League), maybe they are still at high school and the experience that they are getting is great and it’s definitely going to be encouraging.”

Erving admits that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done despite the success of the Jr. NBA (the global programme for young cagers) in Abu Dhabi which continues to build an appetite for the game.

“The sport will probably never replace soccer or football (in this region), but you know that’s not really the goal, the goal is to leave no stone unturned around the world,” he said.

The NBA dream

Erving has one piece of advice for all young players: never stop chasing your dreams.

“Millions of kids play basketball to become a college player, a professional player or be a legend, a hero and a superstar,” he said.

“That’s not possible for everybody, but everybody can dream, everybody can say that ‘I can be the best version of myself that I can be’. That should be gratifying.”

Finally, Erving revealed the key to producing future NBA stars from the Middle East region of Asia — a continent from which only a handful of players have made it to the sport’s greatest stage with China’s Yao Ming being the biggest success story.

“It has happened in other areas, several players in the NBA are from France, Italy, and South America,” he said.

But it’s going to be a step-by-step process for the Middle East region to have an NBA player of its own in the future.

“Look, basketball is something which requires a lot of travelling (to improve). You need to drive to other towns, and other cities, and compete against kids from other areas,” he said.

“You can’t just solely compete with your local players to reach your true potential. I think you reach your potential when you reach other places, places outside of your locality to compete against others who may be playing a different style.

“ So I think that’s what it takes to become a good basketball player.”

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