ABA League champions KK Crvena Zvezda celebrate after defeating Partizan in the final in May. The star-studded team will be playing a match in Dubai in the new season. Image Credit: Source: ABA League

International basketball will soon come to Dubai. That’s the mission of Dubai Basketball, a franchise that aim to break into the EuroLeague, one of the top echelons of the sport. The team have been launched and will soon take baby steps with the appointment of a head coach and the recruitment of an international set of players. Its initial foray will be in the ABA (Adriatic) League, which will set in motion a series of events that will bring European stars to the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai.

Here's an explainer on Dubai Basketball and interview with its Vice-President and CEO Djordje Djokovic.

What’s Dubai Basketball?

Dubai Basketball is a franchise team that aims to compete in the EuroLeague. The team will initially play in the ABA league before working towards its goal of playing in the EuroLeague.

Dubai Basketball Logo

What are the goals of Dubai Basketball?

Dubai Basketball aims to become a leader in basketball, regularly participating in the top competition in Europe—the EuroLeague. In addition to winning basketball competitions, the organisation will work on growing and developing the game and its fan base in the region.

The organisation also aims to cultivate a basketball culture in Dubai and generate sufficient interest to form a solid fan base. Dubai Basketball’s appearance in the ABA league will also bring international stars to Dubai for home matches.

It also aims to develop a club structure in the emirate and nurture youth teams. A state-of-the-art training facility will be built.

Who are the stakeholders of Dubai Basketball?

Abdulla Al Naboodah is the founder of Dubai Basketball. He has played several roles in UAE sports, including chairman of the Board of Al Ahli Club and Al Ahli Football Company. He is also a member of the Dubai Sports Council and the UAE Football Association.

Salem Bin Dasmal is the President of Dubai Basketball. Bin Dasmal is also the Vice-Chairman of Bin Dasmal Group and is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Bin Dasmal has a love for sport and was a former club-level football player and a UAE national tennis champion. Now, he enjoys golf and padel.  

Djordje Djokovic is the vice-president and CEO of Dubai Basketball. With a career spanning over a decade in Wealth Management, the former tennis player has a deep love for basketball. A board member of a prestigious basketball club, Djokovic integrates financial proficiency with an intricate understanding of sports management.

Dejan Kamenjasevic is the general manager and co-founder of Dubai Basketball. A FIBA-certified professional basketball coach and executive with over 20 years of elite experience in Europe and the UAE, he has worked with EuroLeague basketball teams such as FC Barcelona, Baskonia Vitoria, and Girona.

How Dubai Basketball aim to rise to the top

Dubai Basketball are in the process of laying the foundations of a youth programme with an eye on a future date with the EuroLeague. This involves creating a club structure, ensuring compliance with EuroLeague conditions and commitments, and preparing to launch the flagship project: the Regional League.

That will be followed by plans to get a toehold in the EuroLeague by playing the ABA League in the 2024-25 season and striving for on-court excellence. This will help build an identity for enduring fan connection. Other activities include organising the EuroLeague SuperCup and Sports Business Summit to elevate international presence.

In the subsequent years, Dubai Basketball will attempt to increase its competitive position. This is expected to increase game attendance and provide wider reach. It would be followed by a transformative phase, which includes striving for a Top-10 qualification in the EuroLeague.

In a new era for Dubai Basketball, the team will aim for a Final Four position. A first-of-its-kind training centre in the region will also be built in Dubai.

Djordje Djokovic
Djordje Djokovic, Vice-President and CEO of the Dubai Basketball Club, is excited to bring Europe to Middle East and take Middle East to Europe. Image Credit:

Dubai Basketball will compete in Adriatic league: Djordje Djokovic says

A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor

The Dubai franchise will be one of the 16 teams in the ABA League in the new season, which runs from September to May. They will compete against some of Europe’s top clubs like Partizan and KK Crvena Zvezda, who defeated Partizan in the final last month.

Bringing European basketball to Dubai

While the Dubai club will be playing their matches away in Europe, the emirate will see some top-class action during the home legs. All the 15 teams will come to Dubai, allowing fans to watch some of the continent’s prominent names showcasing their talents at the Coca-Cola Arena during the nine-month season.

“Our ultimate goal is to reach the EuroLeague, but now we are taking our first step towards reaching that target. About three weeks ago, we signed with the Adriatic league, which is one of the greatest regional leagues in European competition,” Djordje Djokovic, Vice-President and CEO of the Dubai Basketball Club, told Gulf News.

Outlining the club’s plans, Djokovic, brother of Serbian tennis ace Novak, said: “The primary goal is to sign a head coach, and we are aiming for some of the greatest names in the history of European basketball.”

Diverse and talented roster

Dubai Basketball are also aiming to shortlist and rope in some of the best players from across the world.

“In world ranking, European basketball (EuroLeague) is second only to the NBA, the highest level of basketball. So we are creating an international team that will consist of American and European players. We're trying to have players from different communities as well. We want to have a Filipino, a Lebanese, or a Chinese player. It will be a mix of young talents and some experienced players in the world of basketball. So we're going to have a great and competitive team that will be ready to compete against the best teams in Europe.”

Sustainable business model

While the team aim to compete at the highest level, the club’s business model is extremely important for sustaining the club’s future and enabling the growth of the sport in Dubai and the region as a whole.

“We’re also a franchise and we have a long-term business plan. So we're creating an ecosystem, a product that can be shared all over Europe and all over the world. At the end of the day, we want the clubs to be in a position where they can profit as one European competition. At the moment, it is not the most profitable competition in the world, but there’re a lot of changes going on in European basketball. So we're just hoping to create the business ecosystem that can be profitable, not just for us, but for all the other stakeholders of European clubs,” added the 28-year-old former tennis player, who has been playing an active role in sports management across many clubs in Serbia.

Partizan, one of the top EuroLeague teams, players with a young fan during the 2023 finals against KK Crvena Zvezda. These stars will be competing against Dubai Basketball in Coca Cola Arena in the new season. Image Credit: Source: ABA League

Growing popularity in the region

Basketball’s popularity in the region is well-documented with NBA pre-season games taking place in Abu Dhabi over the last couple of years. The numerous American, European, Lebanese, and Filipino expatriates play and follow the sport in the UAE, and Emirates recently became the official airline and the inaugural title partner of the NBA Cup.

“The EuroLeague is one of the greatest competitions in the world, but it is one of the most undervalued products in the world. The good thing is now everything is changing. It's a league that we want to play one day. Everybody is now interested in the GCC and we are giving Europe an opportunity to expand the market, and we're also giving GCC the opportunity to expand to Europe. It is a win-win for both regions,” said Djokovic.

Long-term vision and grassroots development

The creation of Dubai Basketball has been in the pipeline for over three years now. The club, privately owned by Abdullah Al Naboodah and led by Salem Bin Dasmal, President, Djordje Djokovic, Vice-President and CEO, and Dejan Kamenjašević, General Manager, has been planning the development of the sport at the grassroots level.

“This is a long-term project, so we're not looking at being unrealistic and saying we want to win the ABA league title in the first season. We're aiming for positive development throughout the years. So our major goal for the first year will be to actually create a culture in Dubai that will understand what Dubai Basketball is all about, what the other league is, and every other competition that we will be playing in.

“We're going to create this entertaining product that will be beneficial for every single spectator in the crowd. We want to create that kind of a buzz in the city where everybody in Dubai will live for the game. So our major goal will be to create a competitive team. At the end of the day, we want to become one of the greatest brands of Dubai, this is what we're chasing for. We're not just here to play basketball, but we want to be a part of the community, we want to be a part of Dubai brands,” Djokovic explained.

Youth academy success

Dubai Basketball has been running an academy in Dubai, which has more than 600 children playing the sport. The Academy played in the Next Generation Tournament, an under-18 event, from March 22-24 at the Coca-Cola Arena.

“It was actually a great event, first of its kind in Dubai. That was a first time that any EuroLeague event was organised in Dubai. We had a great attendance throughout the three days of the event, a great number of kids who have developed love and passion for the game of basketball, something that we are aiming for. To our knowledge, many of them, who have never played basketball before, have afterwards signed up to numerous basketball camps and academies as they want to learn how to play basketball and experience what they saw on the floor of Coca Cola Arena,” Djokovic said.

The EuroLeague’s motto is "Every Game Matters," which holds true for Dubai Basketball. In fact, every step counts towards realising their dream.