Coming soon: Pre-season NBA games in India?

Basketball has never been a big sport in India unlike US, a nation where each and every hoopster dreams of playing it professionally.

Published: 31st May 2018 03:45 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st May 2018 03:45 AM   |  A+A-

Kelly Olynyk (left) and Darvin Ham during the BWB Asia 2018 training session

Express News Service

GREATER NOIDA: Basketball has never been a big sport in India unlike US, a nation where each and every hoopster dreams of playing it professionally.

The sport has gained decent popularity in India, with players like Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Satnam Singh turning out abroad in the last few years. And if one visits the ongoing Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Asia programme in Delhi NCR, this spike in interest is evident from the seven boys and 18 girls from the country present at the camp, impressing one and all with their skills. Almost all the campers — aged under 17 — at BWB Asia 2018 aspire to become an NBA player. Besides Indians, there are youngsters from various countries like China and Australia.

NBA has catalysed massive interest in the sport in India, which can be gauged from their efforts to uplift basketball in a nation that is dominated by cricket.

They have opened an NBA academy, and have also managed the broadcast of a few games in prime-time slots. Stars like Kevin Durant and Andre Miller have also visited India. These are steps in the right direction.

All these efforts notwithstanding, India is yet to host a pre-season NBA game. Scott Fleming, senior director of basketball operations for NBA India and former India men's coach, feels that time is not far off.

“NBA and basketball are growing in India. It is a lot bigger than what it was here a few years ago, when I came in 2012. I do think one game can come to India. I cannot tell you exactly as to when that will happen, but I believe it is going to some time soon," he told Express.

"It will give Indians a taste of live NBA. They have been watching the league a lot on TV, early morning. If it happens, it will be a great thing.”

Nations like China have already hosted a pre-season game with roaring success. Tokyo has even hosted regular games. With the world’s most popular basketball league reaching out to many countries, the chances of it coming to India does look like a possibility.

If NBA has concerns about basketball players failing to attract crowds in India, one should just look at the atmosphere of the venue in Bengaluru where India played against Kazakhstan last year.

The 4,000-odd capacity of the arena was full, reflecting India's gradual increase in love for the sport. That happened even though there were no big names during the contest.

Also, venues are not a problem, with Chennai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Thyagaraj Stadium in Delhi or Sree Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru being good options.

No doubt that NBA has done its bit and is still doing so, but bringing a game could lead to another step in the sport's evolution.

“NBA has already done this in China. So I am quite optimistic about it coming to India as well,” remarked Fleming.

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