Feature

NBA in India: A story of playing the waiting game

Having entered the Indian market at the turn of the century, the NBA is keen to leave a lasting footprint in the country.

By Naveen Peter ·

The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) maiden season kicked off in October 1949. And it took a good 70 years before action from the basketball league came over to India.

Since 1984, the NBA has visited several countries for their preseason games; including Italy, Mexico, Britain, France and the Philippines among others. India came into the picture in 2019.

Two matches featuring Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings, played in October 2019, at the Dome SVP Stadium in Mumbai was the first time that the glitz and glamour of the cash-rich American franchise league took centre stage in India.

“It's fantastic and historic to have these two games here,” the league commissioner Adam Silver had said ahead of the NBA India Games.

“But in the larger scope of developing a business, it's a very small step. You really have to go into it knowing that this is going to be a long-term project.”

Though baby steps from the NBA's point of view, the preseason matches helped in reassuring the league’s commitment towards seeing India as a big market for the sport.

While basketball has been around for a long time in India, with the national team even participating in the 1980 Olympics, it’s only since the turn of the century that the NBA's India interest started taking shape.

Since the early 2000s, there have been sporadic NBA broadcasts in India.

However, from 2012 India’s basketball patrons have enjoyed unrestricted access to the sport following the NBA's India deal with broadcaster Sony with an eye on the future.

Unhinged coverage of the regular season and the playoffs along with dedicated shows that give fans a look into the world of NBA has seen the league invest enough in cultivating a fan base in the country.

NBA Academy India

Apart from bringing live-action to the sub-continent, the NBA has also shown its interest in improving the game at the grassroots level in India. And the NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training center, has been one such step in this direction.

A fully-funded academy, on the outskirts of the national capital, with an aim to nurture the future generations hoopsters, NBA Academy India has been providing the top talents across the country with best of facilities and coaching.

Trained by established NBA basketball coaches in Scott Fleming, Todd Gates and Ronald Cass, the youngsters not only benefit from the facilities at this elite basketball training centre but also from the experience and expertise they bring.

This continued effort has paid dividends over time with a few youngsters bagging scholarships to play in the North American college basketball scene.

Youngsters like Sanjana Ramesh, Vaishnavi Yadav, Jagshaan Bir Singh and Aashay Verma have graduated from this academy to various college teams — including the ones in the NCAA in the United States.

But one of the biggest draws has been Princepal Singh, a six-foot-10-inch power forward who joined the NBA G-League’s Select TeamIgnite — featuring other elite prospects from across the world in the coming season.

Indian players in the NBA

Teenager Princepal Singh, however, isn’t the first Indian in the NBA. The past years have a few more make their way to the league.

Satnam Singh, a son of wheat farmers, was the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks selected him as the 52nd overall pick at the 2015 NBA Draft.

Satnam Singh was soon sent to the team’s G-League affiliate, Texas Legends, while Amjyot Singh joined the minor league in 2017, turning up for Oklahoma City Blue before joining Wisconsin Herd.

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi hopeful

Though these efforts are yet to have a telling impact on the fortunes of the national team, Indian basketball team captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi is hopeful of a bright future.

Power forward Princepal Singh will join the NBA G-League’s Select team, Ignite. Photo: FIBA

“I have hope for the future as in the past few years, basketball has started gaining prominence in people’s minds – one can find basketball videos being shared on social media and other online platforms,” the Arjuna awardee told the Times of India.

“Plus, the NBA is growing its base in India which gives further hope that the game is gradually going to become extremely popular in the country.”