NBA slam dunk in Mumbai
For the first time in its 63-year long history, the United States' National Basketball Association (NBA), widely considered to be the premier men's professional basketball league in the world, will be playing two games outside its country. Two NBA teams, Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers, will be playing two pre-season games at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Indoor Stadium in Mumbai on October 4 and 5.
The games in India are a culmination of years of efforts by the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA (the largest grassroots sports programme in India), NBA Academy India (NBA's elite training centre), NBA Basketball Schools (Pay-to-play programme) among others. India has been a priority market for the NBA for some time now and the pre-season games will be one of the many avenues to engage with the fans in the original league-style, said Diane Gotua, Vice President of Global Business Operations, NBA in an interview.
* This will be the first time India will witness a live NBA game in the country. How did it all come about?
Gotua: India is a priority market for the NBA and the NBA India Games 2019 will be an important milestone in the continued growth of basketball in India as they will provide an opportunity for fans, youth and basketball stakeholders from across the country to have a live NBA experience.
We have been having discussions with all our teams about participating in pre-season and regular-season international games and the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers were selected after considering their interest, schedule, logistics and timing.
Pacers governor Herb Simon and Kings Chairman and governor Vivek Ranadive have been instrumental in making this a reality and we are excited to have their teams participate in this historic event. As the NBA's first Indian-born majority governor and a Mumbai-native, Vivek shares our vision of promoting basketball in India and has bolstered our efforts to grow the game worldwide. We look forward to successful pre-season games in India.
* What was the reaction of Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers players when they were informed about their games in Mumbai?
Gotua: As the media and entertainment hub and financial capital of India, Mumbai has a history of successfully hosting similar events. For Sacramento Kings chairman Vivek Ranadive, Mumbai is his hometown and the team is naturally very intrigued and excited to play here. The Indiana Pacers were also thrilled at the prospect of being among the first two teams to play NBA games in India. We look forward to a great showcase of our game.
It also thrills me that over 60 per cent of the ticket were sold off in two hours after booking opened on August 13 and currently we are looking at not more than 5 per cent ticket availability.
* The entertainment promises to be as dazzling as the sporting event. Do you think sports and entertainment go hand-in-hand?
Gotua: Sports and entertainment are connected on a much deeper level, especially at the NBA. Year-over-year, NBA teams set the benchmark for fan experience on game-days. The sport itself is fast-paced and extremely thrilling. Combine that with impressive half-time performances and interactive elements, mascot engagement, celebrity presence, high fashion and style statements, the NBA games have everything. The experience also includes cash prize contests like hitting half-court shots, free merchandise giveaways, which works wonderfully.
In fact, Bollywood is also extensively present in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings organises a Bollywood Night every year during their home games in celebration of their ties to India. A number of Bollywood actors, including Ranveer Singh, Sonam Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Disha Patani, Shilpa Shetty, Neha Dhupia, have attended NBA Games in the past.
* Basketball is popular among school and college students in India. But being a team game at which the country isn't really good, it's difficult for youngsters to make a career out of it. How do you think that can change?
Gotua: For any sport to truly take shape, it is important to have a strong foundation. Since its launch in 2013, Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA, our grassroots initiative, has has engaged with over 10 million youth from 10,000 schools and trained more than 10,000 physical education instructors in India. Top players from the programme are also getting a chance to participate with other nations in the Junior NBA Global Championships.
Our elite academy - NBA Academy India - is providing top talent with scholarships and a pathway. We are proud of how much the programme has accomplished in last two years. Six prospects (five women and one man) from our Academy have joined or committed to US colleges and universities on basketball scholarships.
Our programmes have positively impacted millions of youth, parents and coaches in India, and we will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to further raise the overall level of play in the country.
* How does Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA enable young athletes?
Gotua: We have invested significant resources in building a robust grassroots programme through Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA to ensure a high-performance ecosystem for youth interested in basketball across the country. It has been extremely gratifying to see the way parents, teachers and kids have embraced the sport, and we look forward to continuing to work with them in improving both the experience as well as growing the scale of the programme. In fact, our first game on October 4 is being played in front of 3,000 youth from more than 70 schools under the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme.
* You've been with NBA for many the sport. Do you have a favourite team?
Gotua: I absolutely love and enjoy the sport. I can't say that I have a favourite team, but I am really proud of everything the league and our teams do to make each and every game a unique and wonderful experience for its fans.IANS