By Kate McAuley
Former NBA star and gold medallist Jawann Oldham on coaching potential sports stars of the future in Dubai.
Former NBA star and Olympic gold medallist Jawann Oldham has travelled all over the world introducing basketball to anyone who's interested. Now he's here in Dubai to coach potential sports stars of the future. Kate McAuley caught up with the seven-footer to talk coaching, developing basketball from the grassroots up and playing with Michael Jordan.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a former member of the National Basketball Association (NBA). I played with the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks and a little bit with the Sacramento Kings. I was also an Olympic gold medallist in 1979 in Mexico City.
Eh? What Olympic games in 1979?
Yeah, at the time the next Olympics were due to be in Moscow in 1980. It was in the middle of the Cold War and we [the US] were boycotting Russia, so they shifted everyone to Mexico City in 1979.
When did you retire from playing?
I retired from the NBA in 1992, then I went to Taiwan and China as a player-coach, and then on to South America. I kept my career going for six more years because I was still healthy and active. When I stopped playing, I started coaching in Macau, where I worked with high school teams. After that I moved to Japan and met up with an old friend of mine, Joe Bryant, [NBA legend] Kobe Bryant's father, and we coached and set up the first professional league there.
Basketball doesn't really have the popularity that other sports enjoy in Japan.
Yeah, America took baseball over there about 80 years ago and now they've just introduced themselves to basketball and it's growing very quickly. It's the skill level that's going to take them a while to catch up with the rest of the region.
How do you rate the skill level here?
The Asian Games has helped the level get much higher. The UAE is going to want to compete at an international level, whether it is at these regional games or the Olympics. I know that football is number one in Europe and the Middle East, but I think basketball is coming up a close second. It's growing in popularity, it's an indoor sport, and it's family oriented. It's not like a football pitch, where you're sitting up in a stand looking down on a huge field. With basketball, you're up close and personal. I think it's a much more accessible sport.
What about at the grassroots level? How are kids here learning to play?
I'm teaching them now at a really young age, so in the next six years or so, when the sport really catches fire here, they'll be ready. A lot of basic skills are missing. There are not many basketball coaches either. For the older ones, there are a lot of bad habits that I have to break. It's best to get them when they're teenagers or younger. It's a very intelligent sport. You have to learn how to play offence and defence. You have to run, shoot, and dribble. It's a 94-foot end-to-end game.
So, why did you move on from Japan to Dubai?
In Japan, they want to move at their own pace and they are not open-minded enough. I think that they are still really into their baseball. I've always been interested in coming to the Middle East. Prince Mohammed from the Saudi royal family is one of my best friends and told me in the early 80s to go to a little town called Dubai. I came here last year on a scouting trip and I thought it was beautiful. I'm the first NBA player to set something up here. I have plans to set up a splinter school in Abu Dhabi and want to go to Saudi Arabia too.
What's your greatest basketball moment?
Probably just digging in on defence with Michael [Jordan]. He liked having me with him because I'm tooth and nail. One time it was just me and him on defence. I blocked four shots in a row. I fell over the back of someone, Michael got the ball and we went on the break. I stumbled up the court, and Mike ends up finger rolling it into the basket. I said ‘I did all that defence and you didn't let me score!' and he's like ‘J, I didn't think you were going to stay on your feet.'
Jawann Oldham is the Sports & Recreation Manager at Centennial, the Canadian University of Dubai and has established the first professional Basketball Academy of Dubai. For more information on training programmes and summer camps visit www.badubai.com.