How the NBA helped Indian basketball grow

From sporadic broadcasts to the rise of Satnam Singh, the NBA's growth in India is steadily reaping rewards.

The first week of October will be a watershed moment in Indian basketball history as the NBA will host two pre-season games for the first time in the country.

The Sacramento Kings are set to play the Indiana Pacers at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai, with an eye on promoting the sport to a new audience.

The participating teams have also shown much excitement in this visit to India with the likes of point guard De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings) documenting their thoughts in the lead-up to the big basketball weekend.

“I hope everyone can just enjoy being around each other on this trip. Learn new things together. Obviously, we’re going out there to play basketball games and discover who we are as a team. But through a long trip like this, it can only help us grow chemistry and grow closer together.” Fox wrote for The Undefeated.

NBA and India

While the pre-season games between the Kings and the Pacers will be the first time the NBA’s top basketball players descend on Indian shores, there has been a continued effort for the past decade or so to popularise the sport in the Asian country.

Harrison Barnes will play for the Sacramento Kings in the preseason game in Mumbai
Harrison Barnes will play for the Sacramento Kings in the preseason game in MumbaiHarrison Barnes will play for the Sacramento Kings in the preseason game in Mumbai

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

However, it was only in 2012 that India’s basketball patrons found an unrestricted coverage of the sport when the NBA cracked a deal with Sony Pictures Network - Sports (SPN Sports) with an eye on the future. That helped promote NBA and basketball, especially with dedicated weekly shows that took a closer look at the games.

Academy in New Delhi

Apart from having a broadcast presence in India, the NBA has also taken it upon itself to improve Indian basketball at the grassroots level. They established a fully-funded academy in New Delhi in May, 2017 with an aim to provide the best of facilities for India’s next generation of hoopsters. The NBA organised an extensive, three-month scouting camp throughout the country and selected 22 players, awarding them scholarships to train in New Delhi under the guidance of the likes of Scott Fleming, Todd Gates and Ronald Cass.

“All the kids who go to the NBA academy in New Delhi are fully sponsored and are given free schooling there as well. The coaches who train the kids are also those who have been sent by the NBA to India to live here full-time,” explains Karan Madhok, a writer of Indian basketball. 

These continued efforts have paid dividends for Indian basketball at the international stage, with a few youngsters procuring scholarships to play in the North American college basketball scene.

India’s young crop of women basketballers like Sanjana Ramesh, Vaishnavi Yadav and Srishti Suren have all signed for American or Canadian University teams in the recent past. India’s young male players like Jagshaan Bir Singh and Aashay Verma have also bagged scholarships to American colleges.

Apart from this, India’s greatest success story in basketball in the past decade has been Satnam Singh, who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 2015. Though the 23-year-old Indian is yet to make a senior appearance in the NBA, being drafted in itself represents a landmark moment for Indian basketball. Alongside Satnam, India’s Amritpal Singh has also plied his trade abroad, playing for the Sydney Kings in Australia.

Current scenario

Basketball in India has gained popularity with fans in India since the turn of the decade, thanks to the continued efforts by the American franchise league. 

However, the popularity of the sport may not be proportional to the Indian teams’ performances on the international stage yet. In the recently concluded FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, hosts India couldn’t register a win but there were definitely a few bright spots in addition to the exposure the team received playing other quality teams.

Sacramento Kings will play Indiana Pacers in a preseason game in Mumbai on October 4-5.
Sacramento Kings will play Indiana Pacers in a preseason game in Mumbai on October 4-5.Sacramento Kings will play Indiana Pacers in a preseason game in Mumbai on October 4-5.

The coming decade for Indian basketball though could bode well with many young prospects hopefully making the most of their international experience. And with events like the NBA pre-season games in Mumbai happening this week, there’s hope for the sport to grow in leaps and bounds.

Want to watch the NBA India games?

The Sacramento Kings vs Indiana Pacers pre-season games will be held on Friday, 4th and Saturday, 5th October at the NSCI Dome, Mumbai with a start time of 19:00 IST.

They will be broadcast on the Sony Pictures Network - Sports channels (Sony Ten 1, Sony Ten 3) and streamed on sonyliv.com in India.

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