The NBA is once again making international history after it played its first games in India. While every preseason is filled with teams going overseas to China, Israel, and all over Europe, the Indian market has not yet caught on to basketball in any great capacity. The NBA is anxious to change this, however, as getting this market would be getting one with over a billion people.
These games played between the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers could be the first domino to fall on the journey to capture the interest of the Indian Market
The NBA in India
It is no mistake that the Sacramento Kings were one of the teams to usher in this new era in India. The team’s owner, Vivek Ranadive was born and raised in India before emigrating to the United States, and he has spoken about how good the Indian Market could be for the NBA since taking over the team in 2013. He is the first and only Indian-American owner in the NBA
“Sharing Indian culture with our fans and connecting with our supporters in India represents the incredible opportunity we have as an NBA team to use our platform to unite people through a shared passion for the game,” Ranadive told The Indian Times. “When I first came into the NBA, Adam Silver promised me that one day we would have a game in India with the Kings and I am so grateful that he’s come through on that promise.”
On top of the two games played in Mumbai, the NBA also hosted a series of grassroots programs and activities meant to put the players out there among potential fans and introduce them to the league.
Through NBA Cares, Jr. NBA, Her Time to Play, and NBA Academy, the teams embarked on events that encourage physical fitness, grow interest, empower girls and women, and promote STEM-based education for children and teenagers.
The league is also investing in building basketball courts across the country on top of their educational initiatives so that interest in the game does not start and end with the players’ visits to the country. It is a trip that is equal parts philanthropy and basketball ambassadorship.
“Our mission is to use basketball as a platform for good and we are thrilled to partner with the American India Foundation to invest in the education and growth, both physically and mentally, of youth in India,” said Ranadive (per NBA.com) “I believe in the transformative power of sports and it is a tremendous honor to help bring the game to the country where I was raised as the NBA continues to expand its reach in India and across the globe.”
The games in India
The first game played in Mumbai was an exciting display for a crowd made mostly up of local school kids. After the Kings blew open an early lead, the Pacers would come back and make the game exciting. The crowd was able to see the sharpshooting style of Buddy Hield and company versus an exciting young team as they faced off in overtime. The Pacers won 132-31.
The second game was more typical preseason basketball, with the end of the bench guys getting more burn. The Pacers would also win that game 130-106, although if crowds were any indication, the games served their purpose.
20 years ago, nobody knew that China would be the NBA market that it is today, and it changed practically overnight after Yao Ming took the league by the storm. Likely, India would need a similar story to become the same type of market, but by planting these seeds, the league is showing commitment to helping grow basketball into a culture that could bring an Indian-born superstar and help reel in that gigantic market. Time will tell if it can do so.