An NBA game in India looked like a distant dream until a few years ago. With the country not having enough infrastructure to promote top-level basketball, not many were optimistic about India’s chances to host teams from the prestigious league.
But in the first week of October, it happened. The NBA travelled to this part of the world, and the Sacramento Kings and the Indiana Pacers played two pre-season fixtures at the National Sports Club of India’s Dome in Mumbai.
With Vivek Ranadive, the owner of the Sacramento Kings who was born and raised in Mumbai, convincing the NBA top brass and his friend Herbert Simon, the owner of the Indiana Pacers, Indian fans got the opportunity to watch the tall cagers live in action.
But it was no easy task.
When the NBA opened an office in India in 2011, the initial idea was to popularise the game step by step. And in the last few years, it has set up an NBA India Academy in New Delhi and started a junior NBA programme along with the Reliance Foundation.
That strong foundation paved the way for some big-ticket action. The NBA now plans to have a 12-team league in India in the next decade.
“That’s one of the things we have been discussing recently. It is about the ability to launch a league here in India... I will say that I was not sure five years ago that was something that was even possible,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
With changes in technology that allow an “incredible numbers of connections” in dense urban areas, the NBA has seen immense fan engagement in India in the recent years. “The engagement we are seeing from young fans here through mobile technology, plus the academy that we now have in Delhi and the large numbers of young people playing, I think there's an opportunity to do that. It’s something we are very engaged in,” Silver added.
True to the NBA commissioner’s words, fans packed the stands of the NSCI Dome as the Pacers trumped the Kings on both days.
With the perfect setup and high-quality basketball, the NBA did strike the right chord in Mumbai. That has made it come up with two immediate goals — the development of top-tier talent from India and starting a league.
“I hope in the next 10 years we’ll have at least one player that comes out of the system who plays in the NBA. We already see players. And I fully expect that there will be arenas that spring up across the country where we can play these games,” Ranadive, who has been the link between India and the NBA, said.
The information technology tycoon has already spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about having more arenas and “the importance of arenas in smart cities and in cities of the future, and I know he’s committed to that.”
Following China as the model — where the it has grown by leaps and bounds courtesy the pre-season games — the NBA now plans to invest more in India to ensure the setup is world-class.
ALSO READ | NBA plans to launch a league in India
“I have had some interesting discussions with developers. I think it’s inevitable that there will be state-of-the-art arenas in major cities in India, in part because these are multi-use facilities and live entertainment is increasingly important here as well. Of course, a great arena can have concerts and other shows. But we do need to see those arenas over time in order to play more games,” Silver said.
If you thought the two pre-season fixtures in Mumbai were a one-off initiative, the NBA is here to prove you wrong.
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