Vivek Ranadive: ‘I see no reason why Indians can’t play in NBA’

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive believes basketball can become the second most popular sport in India in the future.

Sacramento Kings team chairman Vivek Ranadiveis in Mumbai to be part of NBA India games 2019.   -  Vivek Bendre

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive calls himself a true ‘Mumbaikar’. Born and raised in the city, the business tycoon is excited to bring his team to his hometown for the NBA pre-season fixture against Indiana Pacers.

So, when the two teams lock horns on Friday and Saturday at the NSCI Dome here, the 61-year-old isbe expecting the Mumbaikars to come and cheer for the Kings.

“To be able to actually have a pre-season game for my Sacramento Kings against Indiana Pacers is one of the most exciting days of my life,” he says.

In an exclusive chat with Sportstar on Thursday, Ranadive speaks about the NBA India games, Sacramento Kings’ season ahead and more…

You were born and raised in Mumbai. How does it feel to finally see an NBA pre-season fixture happening here?

This is incredibly exciting. I am a Mumbaikar. I will always be a Mumbaikar. My heart and soul belongs to Bombay. I used to drive past here every day, see Haji Ali (dargah) on my way to Bombay International School — where I studied. To see an actual NBA game here is beyond my wildest dreams. To be able to actually have a pre-season game for my Sacramento Kings against Indiana Pacers is one of the most exciting days of my life.

“I would be surprised if we don’t have one or more Indian players that come out of the Indian system and make it all the way to the NBA. We have a couple of J (junior) league players right now and we expect them to take this leap. It takes really understanding the system, getting the skills, getting the fitness level. I see no reason why the Indian players can’t do that.” — Vivek Ranadive, owner of NBA team Sacramento Kings.

Do you think that hereafter, more and more NBA teams will be keen on playing in India during pre-season?

I hope this is the first step in a long journey. I fully expect that it will continue. We have just lit the flame, there is spark and the flame will keep getting bigger.

In the last few years, players like Satnam Singh have been drafted into the NBA, but failed to make it count. Now with NBA coming to India, do you expect the scenario to change in the coming years?

I would be surprised if we don’t have one or more Indian players that come out of the Indian system and make it all the way to the NBA. We have a couple of J (junior) league players right now and we expect them to take this leap. It takes really understanding the system, getting the skills, getting the fitness level. I see no reason why the Indian players can’t do that.

But where lies the gap between the Indians and the top NBA cagers?

The NBA is the best league in the world. It’s hard for any place to make it there. Whether it is the European League, or the African, no matter where they are, it’s a huge leap to get into the NBA. This is the most elite league in sports and it just requires an elite level of not just skills but athletic abilities as well.

The last few seasons haven’t been fruitful for the Kings. As another season begins, what are your expectations?

We have a young and athletic team and we had a good season last year and hopefully, we can build on the work that we started. We expect to keep improving on every front. The kids are still young. For De’Aaron Fox, it’s his third year in the league and I expect him to be even better. I expect Marvin Bagley III to take a big jump and this is going to be the most exciting show on sports. It’s a fast team, an athletic team, they are going to score a lot of points. They are going to have great athletic feats, I think we can give any team a run for their money.

Sacramento Kings has made the optimum use of data analytics. Do you think that not just for NBA, but for other sports as well, data analytics is the way to go?

Now with the tools that are available with the overhead cameras, even in soccer stadiums or cricket fields — you are able to get gigabytes of data that you never had access to before. You can get tons of data on everything — on positioning, ball movement and that data, combined with machine-learning software, allows you to find patterns that may not have been possible before.

But it’s just one tool. There are multiple tools and data is just one tool in whole kit of tools.

You talk about basketball growing in India. But do you really think it is easy to find takers in a country which swears by its cricket?

I believe basketball will be the second most popular sport in the country. Of course, cricket is the national pastime. In the land of (Sachin) Tendulkar, (Mansur Ali Khan) Pataudi, it’s hard to replace that. But basketball and India are meant to be together. This is a game that can be played by boys, girls, indoors, outdoors in cities, villages... It doesn’t need a lot of space like cricket does. There’s no city in the world that represents basketball more than Mumbai. Mumbai is Bollywood, fashion, excitement, spice, music; it’s a spectacle. Basketball is a spectacle. It’s a vibe. This sport is going to be popular in India.