Brook Lopez: Professional league can help Basketball grow in India

Brook Lopez is in India as part of NBA's effort to popularise the sport in the country.

Brook Lopez is a huge fan of French footballers Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Seven footer Brook Lopez, a fan of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, is disappointed at his home country, United States, missing qualification for FIFA World Cup 2018, but will keep track of soccer action from Russia. The Los Angeles Lakers centre, into his 10th season in the NBA after early experience of pro basketball with New Jersey Nets, is in India as part of NBA effort to popularise the sport here in various ways. Excerpts from a chat:

Q: Sport is popular worldwide and can transcend boundaries. Sportspersons making a political statement, like it happened in the US last year (NFL players kneeling during the national anthem) can have a lasting impact due to the wide following for sport. Your thoughts...

A: Since sport is popular and a lot of people follow it, it’s a great platform for athletes to speak their mind if they see a disservice, or something that is not right (happening). So you can use that platform to make people aware and try to look for change.

Read: Lopez believes India now has a system in place to nurture talent

Q: People use a sporting platform to express their feelings, even the Olympic Games (Moscow 1980) has been effected by political decisions. At the same time, there is also the possibility of sport getting entangled with politics. Do you feel this mix of sport with politics will lead to an issue?

A: Not everyone in the locker room agrees upon certain issues obviously. There are millions of fans around the world and a lot of them obviously have political opinions and it is a difficult thing to deal with. There is a business (side) of the game also to think about, but in politics there are a lot of moral issues as well.

Q: Every country has a couple of sports which dominate TV time and has a huge fan following.  In the US, with basketball and baseball ruling, do you think any other sport in America could get more support but for these two?

A: In America yeah, it’s obviously football (soccer). The sport is so popular in the rest of the world and it has been increasing in popularity in the US for a while with the Major League Soccer. Every time the (FIFA) World Cup comes around great interest is generated in the local league, which keeps growing. I think it’ll be great to see that kind of growth in basketball in India, perhaps a professional league can make it happen.

Q: Do you keep track of the World Cup, the next one just around the corner (FIFA World Cup 2018 in June)?

A: Yeah, we see the soccer teams on TV and unfortunately the US team didn’t qualify. It was a tough pill for us to swallow and we were watching the qualifiers game in the locker room right before our game. I am disappointed a lot but still obviously will tune in (to World Cup). Growing up I was always a Zidane and Henry fan, great French footballers. I had the privilege to meet Henry when playing with the (New Jersey) Nets. He is a big basketball fan and was working with the Red Bulls in formative years. I got a chance to meet him and it was an awesome experience.

Q: Yao Ming’s presence in the NBA resulted in Chinese basketball taking off into big-time. Do you think that is the way out for Asian countries like India?

A: It definitely increases the chance. The diversity of the country is another factor. There are so many different kinds of places around India, I have learned so much being here for the past few days. To see the kind of players from various regions, lots of different types of players out there and there are higher chances of succeeding (in basketball).

Q: You are referring to different body types, right? With players from Europe, Americas, Asia drafted into the NBA, what does the future hold for  basketball?

A: Obviously, there’s a lot of perimeter play and speed and you see players like Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo you know he’s tall with large wingspan and very athletic. There’s a Guard thing as well. The talent in basketball comes with it. Just being at the camp in Delhi (NBA ACG Jump), I definitely saw kids with raw tools to do that kind of thing.

Q: Basketball stayed clear from doping issues which hurt pro cycling related to Tour de France, and world athletics with stars testing positive. How has a very physical sport like basketball remained clean?

A: Honestly it is just my opinion. The game is just so talent-based, I don’t know if there are really many  performance-enhancing drugs that can help you put a baall into a basket. The basics of basketball makes it hard to find someone to do that and obviously we have a lot of goodwill going in. The games (NBA) been growing a lot internationally over the past decade and even longer. We do drug testing, but it is not a major issue for us fortunately.

Q: Your reaction if a top NBA player gets involved in a doping offence. Would you feel the same way young cyclists in the US felt when Lance Armstrong dark side got exposed after Tour de France epic feats?

A: I was obviously thinking as a young basketball player, I would be devastated to find your hero involved,  someone considered to be the face of the sport. Fortunately, I have not had to deal with such a thing. I hope as young athletes, my view would be to keep hopes and dreams alive and continue to do what I am doing.

Q: Do you expect any player below six feet to survive in the NBA?

A: Steve Curry and Isaiah Thomas, one of my teammates and the size he is (five feet, nine inches), the amazing things on court they do on court against seven footers like myself is impressive. It gives a different dynamics to the sport, you don’t want the bigger, more athletic kids in the playground watching these games. You want any kid to watch these players  (Curry and Thomas) and say I can do it, because they did.

Q: Did any of the players seen at the New Delhi trials impress?

A: Yes there were a few of them. I didn’t get any names but watching different kids exceeded my expectations. These kids being 14-15 years old, there is so much room for improvement in these formative years. The NBA India programme is a very special chance to take advantage of by them.