By Debayan Mukherjee
Mumbai, Oct 4 (udaipur kiran) Indianapolis and California had just woken up to a Friday morning like just another. But far away here at the NSCI Dome, a vociferous group of over 3,000 kids from the Reliance Foundation watched with rapt attention the historic first ever NBA game in India between Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings, welcoming the sport in the country with open arms and promising to take to it in the years to come.
A stadium full of boys and girls, all in the age of 10 to 16 years were at their sporting best as they turned on the heat with every passing minute and every point scored as the two teams clashed in the first of the two pre-season games here on Friday.
The city, known for its love for cricket and Bollywood, decked up in the hue of the two North American teams who promised basketball action of the highest level, which according to NBA legend Jason Williams, the country has never seen.
“The fans have never seen a brand of basketball that they are going to see here with these guys,” Williams had told udaipur kiran days ahead of the clash.
And on Friday, the children were witness to real high quality basketball as two NBA teams went toe to toe days ahead of their NBA season that begins on October 22.
While the opening game was reserved for over 3,000 youth, the one to be played the next day at NSCI in Worli is open for the general public.
The children, representing the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA programme, were the special invitees of Nita Ambani as part of Reliance Foundation’s celebration of a successful six years partnership with NBA in India.
Over the years, Reliance Foundation Junior NBA has impacted 11 million children and trained 10,000 coaches in 34 cities in 20 Indian states.
To mark the occasion, Nita Ambani, Chairperson of Reliance Foundation, flagged off the game with the ceremonial match ball presentation to NBA commissioner Adam Silver who acknowledged the contribution of Reliance Foundation in promoting basketball in the country.
“It’s my dream to see India become a truly multi-sport nation. Reliance Foundation is excited to present the first ever NBA game in India and share our joy of celebration of 6 years of NBA partnership with these wonderful and budding basketballers from our Junior NBA programme. Promoting education and sports in children is my mission and I hope to see India on the global sports pinnacle,” she said.
Myles Turner from Indiana Pacers and De’Aaron Fox from Sacramento Kings joined Ambani as the two teams faced off.
“I thank Nita Ambani and Reliance Foundation for their continued support. They have really helped nurture the sport in India with their Jr. NBA programme,” Silver said at the press conference ahead of the game.
In 2013, the Reliance Foundation (RF) Junior NBA Programme rolled out with 100 schools participating here.
Over the last six years, the Jr NBA Programme has impacted 11 million children from 34 cities in 20 states.
The Jr NBA is run under the larger umbrella of Reliance Foundation Education and Sports For All (RF ESA) initiative, spearhead by Nita Ambani herself. The RF ESA has overall impacted 18 million children through sports initiatives in basketball, football and athletics.
Similarly, RF ESA dedicates one game of Mumbai Indians each season exclusively for the special young invitees of Nita Ambani as thousands of kids fill up the Wankhede Stadium.
As far as NBA is concerned, the 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.