By Debayan Mukherjee
Mumbai, Oct 4 (IANS) Buoyed by the interest levels in the country, NBA is looking at the prospect of launching a league in India, it was announced ahead of the first-ever Games between Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings in Mumbai on Friday.
“One of the things we’ve been discussing recently — and I know this is something else my friend Vivek is pushing me on — is the ability to launch a league here in India,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told a packed media gathering at the NSCI Dome.
Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who is settled abroad but grew up in Mumbai, was one of the main drivers behind having a NBA game here. Pacers and Kings are playing two pre-season games here on Friday and Saturday.
While the opening game was reserved for over 3000 children who are part of the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA programme, the one to be played the next day at NSCI in Worli is open for the general public.
“As I’ve said, we have wonderful partners in the Reliance Foundation, with SONY TEN, our broadcaster, and some of our other top-notch corporate relationships here. That is something in these days while we’re here that we’re taking meetings on and openly having discussions.
“We’ve seen enormous progress just in the last five years. When we began our relationship with the Reliance Foundation, for example, shortly before I became commissioner, the target was to reach 3 million young people.
“As I said earlier, that number has now already exceeded 10 million. We saw last season with our relationship with SONY TEN, almost 100 million people in India watched some portion of the NBA season, including an enormous audience for last year’s NBA Finals. And we’re seeing an explosion of interest on social media,” said Silver.
Talking about the immediate goals, he said: ” Our two most immediate goals are, one, to see the development of some top-tier talent coming out of India and where we would again see players coming into the NBA and WNBA. There’s also an enormous pool of young women playing the game as well. And, two, serious consideration of the launch of a league.”
Ranadive has had talks with Silver about the formation of a 12-team league in India that could be like the Basketball Africa League, scheduled to begin in 2020.
“I think this is a country that has already embraced basketball. If you think about the Indian mindset and the Indian vibe, we’re in the movie capital of the world right now. We’re in Bollywood. Basketball is a spectacle. It’s a vibe. It’s a celebration of life, of athletes, of skills,” Ranadive said.
Quizzed when the league can take shape in India, Silver said five years can be a fair target to set as NBA expect an Indian player to take part in their league within that time frame too.
“One of the things we need, though, is more of an arena infrastructure. I think this is where Vivek was a little ahead of the schedule that we might otherwise have been on. This is a fantastic facility we’re in today, but it required us bringing in a court, a scoreboard, seats, locker rooms. And it’s relatively small certainly by NBA standards.
“I have had some interesting discussions with developers over the last two days here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be state-of-the-art arenas in major cities in India, in part because these are multiuse facilities and live entertainment is increasingly important here as well. Of course, a great arena can have concerts and other shows. But we do need to see those arenas over time in order to play more games.
“In terms of timing on the league, as I said, it’s something we’re giving serious consideration to right now. It’s my hope that within five years we have an Indian player in the NBA. And I think for serious consideration of a league, I’d use that same timing. It’s something we would hope to do within the next five years.”
The NBA matches are part of their effort to expand the league beyond North America and reach out to fans across the world. They have become regular fixtures in England, China and Japan and are called the NBA Global Games.