ABU DHABI: Basketball Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas laughs when he considers the idea of him and his teammates from the Bad Boys-era Detroit Pistons having social media during their playing days in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
One of the most explosive point guards the game has ever seen, Thomas led the ‘Bad Boys’ to two championship titles in 1989 and 1990 and the Pistons were Michael Jordan’s ultimate nemeses as they knocked out the Chicago Bulls three years in a row before the tables finally turned in 1991.
Thomas, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Bill Lambier, Joe Dumars and Rick Mahorn were the poster boys for the Pistons at the time and were the reason the team was labeled as extremely physical and aggressive.
“I can’t imagine Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Bill Lambier on social media back in the day. That would have been funny,” said Thomas with a chuckle as he spoke to Arab News at the NBA District fan zone in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
In the ‘Last Dance’ docu-series released in 2020 that chronicled the Bulls’ journey with Jordan – who produced the series – the Pistons were painted as the villains of the story. It included the infamous moment from 1991 when the Detroit players walked off court before the horn without shaking their opponents’ hands after losing to the Bulls.
The incident saw the Pistons heavily criticized and Thomas reckons the team’s reputation would have been even worse had there been social media at the time.
“Oh, we would have been perceived very differently because the information that was out and about how disparagingly Michael Jordan was talking about, not only the Pistons but also the state of Michigan, those words would have been known worldwide, as opposed to just in a small section,” said Thomas.
“A little bit of it has come out now but I think people are starting to understand why the state of Michigan, in Detroit, felt the way we felt during that particular time.”
Such extreme rivalries between teams have become rare in today’s NBA. Thomas spent his entire 13-season career with the Pistons – something you don’t see often nowadays.
“We have rivalry now between players, but we don’t have the visceral competitiveness that teams used to have for each other and that’s probably because it’s still a young league,” explains Thomas.
“They haven’t developed enough time competing against each other at a high level, where the cities can really like get behind and be like, ‘Oh, we don’t like that city’.
“I think that time (of bitter rivalries between teams) may be gone because people keep moving (between teams). So it’s very rarely do you have one player playing for a franchise as long as we did back then.”
One player committed to a single franchise and looks likely to finish his career with the same team is two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been with the Milwaukee Bucks since 2013 and has led them to the championship title in 2021.
Earlier this year, Shaquille O’Neal said Antetokounmpo will very soon be considered the undisputed best player in the league and Thomas believes “he’s there almost now”.
“His will and his determination, along with his skill, is really the thing that sets him apart,” said Thomas of the Greek Freak.
“He’s talented, he has skill. But he also still has the heart and the will to go out and compete every night. And then he understands his responsibility, not only to his team, but to the fans. So he shows up and he competes and people pay their money to come see him. So he goes out and he performs no night out.”
While Antetokounmpo is one of the top stars of the league right now, French teenager Victor Wembanyama has been getting an incredible amount of attention before even making it to the NBA.
The 18-year-old has been described as “an alien” by LeBron James, was tipped to become one of the greatest ever by Antetokounmpo and has been anointed as a top prospect by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“The hype is deserved. He’s that special of a player, he’s that rare of a player,” said Thomas of Wembanyama.
“And do I think he’ll live up to it? Yes. The thing that you just hope for his sake, is that he has an injury-free career because that’s the key, to stay healthy. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was able to stay healthy, play a long time. LeBron James able to stay healthy, play a long time. And they were game-changers. He has a chance to be that. We just hope that he can stay healthy.”
Thomas, who is currently an analyst for NBA TV, is looking forward to the upcoming new season and expects the New Orleans Pelicans to be the “surprise team” of the 2022-2023 campaign.
“With Zion Williams coming back; he’s another different kind of athlete, and by him being away from the game for a year and then Covid a little bit, so he’s got a chance to be pretty special. And I think the Pelicans could be a surprise team,” he added.
Thomas is one of five legends invited to help promote the historic NBA Games in Abu Dhabi, alongside O’Neal, Vince Carter, Chris Bosch and Dominique Wilkins.
The 61-year-old believes the Games – the first-ever to be held in the Gulf and Arab world – will leave a lasting legacy in the region.
“I think it will be more because I think the NBA will continue to come,” said Thomas.
“When you’re welcomed as much as we’ve been welcomed, it’s impressive. You want to continue to build, you want to continue to come back and really show your gratitude for the way you’ve been treated. So I don’t think this is a one off and I think it will be long lasting.
“It’s definitely special to be a person who’s chosen to come over to introduce the sport.
“To still be relevant now and to still have people know your story 30 years later. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool.
“The country is just overwhelmingly beautiful,” he said of the UAE. “Not only that, but just how hospitable the people have been.
“You don’t realize how impactful you’ve been from afar. So seeing the kids and in the way people have reacted to the players and NBA and knowing the history, it’s been impressive.”
RIYADH: Al-Hilal Sports Women have completed a partnership with Alwaleed Philanthropies that will run for five years.
The board of directors of Al-Hilal, headed by Chairman Fahd bin Saad bin Nafel, announced the deal with the charitable organization, whose board of trustees is chaired by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Al-Saud, on Sunday night.
Bin Nafel signed the contract with Secretary-General of Alwaleed Philanthropies Princess Lamia bint Majid Al-Saud at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh.
Also present were the club’s vice-chairman of the board of directors, Suleiman Al-Hatlan, and the members of the board of directors Faisal Al-Ghashian and Salman Al-Tuwaijri, as well as Sultan Alsheikh, CEO of Al-Hilal Investment Club.
The partnership aims to empower women in the sports field, in accordance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. It also bids to provide a high-quality experience and to enhance the club’s achievements in women’s sports.
Bin Nafel was delighted at signing the deal with one of the biggest contributors to community and humanitarian projects locally, regionally and internationally.
He said: “We are pleased to conclude this partnership, which will contribute to promoting women’s empowerment in the sports field toward achieving our goals.
“We established a women’s sports department more than a month and a half ago, which was launched and started with eight women’s games.”
Princess Lamia said the deal showed the foundation’s tireless work to empower women and open up new areas of opportunity for them.
Over the course of four decades, Alwaleed Philanthropies has provided support and spent more than SR16.5 billion ($4.4 billion) on social welfare programs, and implemented more than 1,000 projects in more than 189 countries around the world.
The foundation collaborates with a range of charitable, governmental, and non-governmental organizations to combat poverty, empower women and youth, develop local communities, provide disaster relief, and create cultural understanding through education.
ASTANA: Novak Djokovic claimed the 90th title of his career and the fourth of 2022 with a dominant straight-sets victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the ATP final in Astana on Sunday.
The 35-year-old Djokovic triumphed 6-3, 6-4 in 75 minutes to add to the trophies he won this season in Israel, Rome and at Wimbledon.
It was the ninth consecutive match victory for the fourth seed, who guaranteed himself a spot at the 2022 ATP Finals as a result of the win.
“I dared to dream, actually,” Djokovic replied when asked if he had ever imagined he would win 90 titles.
“I always hoped that I would be going to have a great career. Obviously, didn’t know the amount of finals I was going to play, the amount of tournaments I was going to win, but my intention was always to reach the highest heights in our sport.”
The Serb won in Tel Aviv a week ago, his first singles tournament since wrapping up a seventh Wimbledon crown and 21st Grand Slam title in July.
He was banned from the US Open and the entire North American hard court swing over his refusal to be vaccinated before returning for Roger Federer’s farewell in the Laver Cup team event in London last month.
His time away had increased his motivation, he agreed. “Well, it did,” Djokovic said. “I could not ask for a better re-start of the season. I’m super-pumped and motivated to end the season as well as I have done these past couple of weeks.”
For third-seeded Tsitsipas, who had been bidding for a tenth career title, it was a ninth defeat in as many ATP Tour 500-level finals he has played in.
Djokovic got off to a flying start, winning the first game at love in a little over one minute.
With Tsitsipas serving at 3-4, Djokovic took the only break point of the first set.
Djokovic earned another break in the fifth game of the second set when a Tsitsipas drop shot fell into the net.
The Serb converted his third match point with a backhand winner into an open court.
“I’m just very grateful and blessed to be able to play this well at this stage of my life,” Djokovic added.
“You know, 35 is not 25. But I think the experience, probably, in these kinds of matches and big occasions helps as well to approach mentally in the right way.”
Djokovic leads Tsitsipas 8-2 in their meetings and has won the past seven clashes.
LONDON: Bukayo Saka’s double sent Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League after a 3-2 win over Liverpool on Sunday that further dented the Reds’ title aspirations.
The Gunners led three times at the Emirates as Gabriel Martinelli struck within a minute and Saka scored in first-half stoppage time.
Darwin Nunez and Roberto Firmino replied for Liverpool either side of half-time, but Jurgen Klopp’s men are now 14 points adrift of the leaders after winning just two of their opening eight league games.
Worse could be to come for Liverpool as they face Manchester City at Anfield next weekend.
Arsenal restored their one-point lead over City and further strengthened their case to be considered serious title contenders after beating Tottenham in the north London derby last weekend.
Mikel Arteta’s men sped out of the blocks as Martinelli exposed the space in behind under-fire Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold to sweep home the opener.
Liverpool responded well to falling behind as Klopp’s brave selection of a front four paid off when Luis Diaz squared for Nunez to score his first Premier League goal since the opening weekend of the season.
Just as the visitors seemed to be on top, Arsenal retook the lead as Martinelli’s cross was tapped in at the back post by Saka.
Liverpool reacted again after the break when substitute Firmino produced a clinical finish across Aaron Ramsdale.
But the decisive moment of an enthralling encounter came 14 minutes from time when Thiago Alcantara was harshly adjudged to have clipped Gabriel Jesus inside the area.
Saka slotted the ball into the bottom corner from the spot to spark jubilant scenes of celebration as Arsenal fans dream of a first league title since 2004.
Earlier, Gianluca Scamacca’s delightful chip helped West Ham strike back from a goal down to beat Fulham 3-1.
The Italian international has scored six times in his last 10 games for the Hammers since a £30 million move from Sassuolo, but David Moyes’ men were forced to come from behind at the London Stadium.
Fulham were without talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic through injury but went in front after just five minutes when Andreas Pereira smashed in from a narrow angle.
Jarrod Bowen levelled from the penalty spot before half-time after Pereira brought down Craig Dawson in the box.
Scamacca then produced a moment of magic as he lofted Lucas Paqueta’s pass over the helpless Bernd Leno.
Michail Antonio came off the bench to secure the three points in stoppage time.
After winning just one of their first seven league games, back-to-back victories have lifted West Ham to within four points of the top six.
Crystal Palace also came from behind after Pascal Struijk’s early goal for Leeds at Selhurst Park.
Odsonne Edouard headed in Eberechi Eze’s free-kick to quickly level and Eze sealed a 2-1 win 14 minutes from time with a fine low strike from Wilfried Zaha’s backheel.
Manchester United are in action later on Sunday when the Red Devils travel to Everton.
LONDON: Over 1,000 English and Welsh football fans with civil orders banning them from attending sports stadiums due to illegal behavior have been told to hand in their passports ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Some 1,308 fans from the two countries, both of which have qualified for the tournament and will play in the same group, will be blocked from traveling to the Gulf amid fears that hooliganism could disrupt the tournament.
From Oct. 14, the Home Office said that it will bring in new rules to prevent “any supporter who has previously caused trouble and is deemed likely to do so again” from traveling to Qatar.
“We will not let the behavior of a minority of lawbreakers tarnish what will be an exciting tournament,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
The Home Office said in a statement that the 1,308 fans subject to banning orders will “be forced to hand their UK passports over to police” ahead of the World Cup, which runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18.
Banning orders are issued to football fans who are convicted of a football-related criminal offense, which often includes violence and hooliganism.
The department added that those who do not comply with the rules or travel to Qatar could face up to six months in prison and an unlimited fine.
The Home Office will be running additional checks at air and sea ports to prevent anyone under a banning order from sneaking out of the country and heading to Qatar.
“Violence, abuse and disorder is not tolerated here, and this criminal behavior will not be tolerated at the World Cup which is why we are taking this firm approach,” Braverman added.
Spoils were shared in the epic summit clash between Al-Jazira and Sharjah, Andriy Yarmolenko showcased his class for Al-Ain and there was further frustration for Leonardo Jardim’s Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club in the ADNOC Pro League’s memorable matchweek five.
Jazira icon Ali Mabkhout shone bright with a brace amid the galaxy of stars in Friday’s sensational 3-3 draw at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, while Greece centerback Kostas Manolas was culpable for two goals during an evening to forget.
Ukraine technician Yarmolenko, meanwhile, conjured an instinctive sixth-minute finish in the Boss’ 2-0 victory at winless Dibba Al-Fujairah, which had dispensed with head coach Zoran Popovic post-match and hired Gregory Dufrennes.
UAE forward Fabio De Lima’s hattrick propelled Al-Wasl into second courtesy of their 4-0 rout of Al-Dhafra, Belgium defender Jason Denayer’s first Shabab Al-Ahli start produced only a dispiriting goalless stalemate with Ittihad Kalba and Al-Wahda’s impressive 4-0 thrashing of Al-Nasr gifting manager Manolo Jimenez a sparkling return to the capital.
Ajman earned consecutive wins with the 2-0 dispensing of Baniyas and Khor Fakkan secured their opening three points in a consummate 3-0 defeat of promoted Al-Bataeh.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action:
Player of the week: Ali Mabkhout (Al-Jazira)
Household names who counted Barcelona, Roma, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus among their former employers stood in opposition.
Yet, there can be no discussion about who remains the UAE top flight’s outstanding performer.
Mabkhout topped the bill during a rollercoaster heavyweight contest, played at furious tempo.
Sharjah will bemoan individual errors and Jazira will hail individual brilliance. There seemed little to separate these challengers in what could be a title race for the ages.
A first-half double moved the UAE’s top scorer onto – an Erling Haaland-esque – nine goals in five matches this term and record-extending 190 career goals in his nation’s top flight. To contextualize the achievement, it is one more goal than Saudi Arabia’s lionized center forward Majed Abdullah achieved at Al-Nassr in league competition during the 20th century.
Mabkhout buzzed around the park from kick-off, energized by sonorous support via packed stands. Within moments of Spain center forward Paco Alcacer’s header for the visitors, he ghosted behind a bewildered Manolas and volleyed into the corner.
A nerveless dinked finished followed almost 10 minutes later from Manolas’ slapdash back-pass. Teammate Abdullah Ramadan’s deflected free kick and Brazilian forward Caio’s double completed the scoring.
Mabkhout has played with, and against, a series of celebrated footballers. This gem of Asian football continues to prove a cut above — no matter the company.
Goal of the week: Pizzi (Al-Wahda)
These are curious times at Wahda.
Their 4-0 victory at Bataeh under Carlos Carvalhal was immediately followed by another 4-0 triumph versus Nasr under successor Jimenez, the Spaniard who guided them to a forgettable fifth in the 2019-20 season.
There was, though, a greater exuberance to this display. Set-pieces dominated the previous weekend, while Saturday was about style.
This was the case for Pizzi’s beguiling 90th-minute conclusion. The former Benfica skipper exchanged exuberant flicked one-twos with Egypt debutant Ahmed Refaat, before lashing in an opening goal in claret from just inside the penalty box.
A rancorous start to 2022-23 could yet come good if this standard is maintained.
They must be at their best on Saturday when Al-Ain welcome them to a hostile Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. The champions are unlikely to let ceding of 60 percent possession go unpunished, unlike Nasr.
Recreation of the interplay for Pizzi’s fine effort could, though, make all the difference.
Coach of the week: Abdulaziz Al-Anbari (Khor Fakkan)
The Saqr bin Mohammed al Qassimi Stadium support waited patiently for this moment.
Khor Fakkan’s talented side had taken one point from four prior outings, despite being newly led by the 2018-19 title winner in Abdulaziz Al-Anbari.
The top flight’s sole UAE custodian was, finally, left overjoyed by Saturday’s fine result against disrupters Bataeh.
Portuguese winger Aylton Boa Morte, the resigned Ramon Lopes and rapid Brazilian forward Juninho got on the scoresheet. But this result was truly vital to their coach.
Al-Anbari’s lifelong attachment to Sharjah — where he lifted silverware as a player and manager — was cut short last winter amid a degradation of results. The ex-UAE midfielder’s reputation required rehabilitation.
It was essential his next post was chosen wisely. Ambitious Khor Fakkan could be an apt pick.
Manolas must react to reality check
Sharjah or their elite centerback recruit did not envisage this start when contracts were signed last month.
From Manolas’ leaked interaction with a lion which went viral to Friday’s horror show at Jazira, it has been a chastening introduction.
Performances on the pitch from the former Olympiacos star will always take prominence. The latest was a torrid one in defense, but the King will hold onto promise about the extra dimension he can bring to build-up play.
Manolas was procured to dominate big nights. The 31-year-old’s career has included the famous Roma “Romantada” against Barcelona, selection for World Cup 2014, Rome derbies and Napoli’s pursuit of glory.
But he was still dissected by a razor-sharp Mabkhout.
Question marks about concentration emerged. Was he also prepared for the opposition presented?
A return to defensive fundamentals is essential. So, too, repetition of the wonderful, 40-yard assist for Caio which few are capable of.
Manolas’ ability is unquestionable. But he would not be the ADNOC Pro League’s first stellar name to stutter.
A positive response is critical when on-song Wasl come to town for matchweek six.
Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas talks social media, GOATs and Gulf NBA games – Arab News