Washington Wizards prepare to take on the Chicago Bulls in NBA pre-season.
A day before his Washington Wizards meet Chicago Bulls in the first NBA match in his native Brazil, Nene was engulfed by a crowd of mini ‘athletes as he coached youngsters in Rio.
“Who knows if some of these kids won’t make it as pros in the future? It’s very important to get young people involved,” said Nene, who became the first Brazilian ever to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2002.
After starting out with Vasco da Gama in his homeland the Sao Paulo-born star was selected by the New York Knicks, who traded him to Denver Nuggets before being traded in turn to the Wizards last year.
Saturday’s fixture is scheduled for Rio’s 18,000-capacity HSBC Arena as part of the NBA Global Games series and Brazilian media said Friday 90 percent of tickets had been snapped up for NBA’s Brazil debut.
Friday’s coaching session was for youngsters from the Alemao favela, or slum complex, as part of an initiative supported by the Rio 2016 Organizing Commitee’s Education Department.
Afterwards, Nene joined former Bulls great Horace Grant, now an NBA ambassador, to visit the favela, ‘pacified’ by police and the army in 2010.
Nene’s success in making his way in the high-octane world of the NBA — he averaged 12.6 points per game last seasion and 2.9 assists per game as a regular — fascinates Brazilian fans, says Sergio Garcia who helps run local basketball school Escobase.
“Two years ago we never thought we’d see a Brazilian make it in the NBA. So to see Nene coming back with the Wizards is like something extraordinary. We are proud of him.”