This weekend saw their first big move in Bangalore, with the players’ clinic taking off on Saturday while next weekend will mark the start of a new tournament aimed at popularising the sport. Akash Jain, NBA Director, International Development, spoke to Deccan Herald on their plans. Excerpts:
Why has India been on NBA’s radar in the last couple of years?
This venture (Mahindra NBA League) is focussed on improving basketball in India and we see a lot of potential for that to take shape as India has a great foundation in the sport.
We have been around for a while now, having clinics, bringing in big players and starting up an office (which is set to open in New Delhi). Now we have to grow. This was the right time to come to India.
What are the objectives of the League?
We are, I stress on this once again, going to be working at the grassroot level and will make no compromise to that stand. As of now our goal is to make basketball the number two sport in India. We will have regular clinics, coaches flying in, big-time league players making a visit for their take on the game and several other fun activities that will attract any youngster to the game. Once that level of passion is created, there can be no telling how much the sport will grow.
What progress have you made in the last two years here?
We have been around for two years and I think we have come a long way. We conducted the first clinic and league tournament in Mumbai and the turnout exceeded our expectation by a mile. Guys came down from Pune and Nagpur and places around Mumbai just to play in the tournament. There were 100 teams and at least 1,500 people turned up for the final. All this suggests that we have arrived but now it’s time to settle and start making the difference.
Tell us more about the model designed for India?
We have a structured model for development but with every new country, we customise to suit to its needs. Our commissioner had a vision twenty years ago and that is when we spread into China. Now we have about 300 million playing basketball and we have four local offices to keep everything running at its peak.
India is different in many ways and we are figuring out our model to make the jump. The base of the model will remain the same but it will be fine-tuned to cater to what it needs.
We like to add a little NBA-style entertainment to all of this to make it more fun and user friendly. We are looking at working on the elite players to make a difference to the game.
The game in NBA and in India are of different styles. How will that affect the scheme of things?
India has a very different approach to basketball and we are not planning on erasing that. We would like to hold on to their tradition with the help of Basketball Federation of India incorporate something new. Our objective is to spread the sport and we will do it the way we did right across the globe. NBA is not just about flashy players and big money deals, it’s about the sport at the end of the day and that’s what really matters. We are also going to add glamour-quotient to the sport, which will in turn draw more people.
And now the inevitable question. Will India ever produce an NBA player?
It’s really hard to put a timeline on that but from all the potential that we have seen I think it is possible. There is that energy and the determination to make it big. NBA is looking for players from different parts of the world to join in and add to its charm. An Indian player will certainly help in bringing in a wider audience but like I said before a timeline cannot be predicted.