Rarely, there comes along a superstar whose humility and passion transcends the sporting arena and leaves you star-struck. Dwight 'Superman' Howard, Orlando Magic's 6'11'' centre, is one such man.
Howard was in town on Friday to help with the launch of NBA Jam, an initiative of America's National Basketball Association (NBA) to bring Indians closer to the sport and its players.
If nothing else, NBA proved astute in picking its brand ambassador. "It has been a dream to be able to come to India, and meet so many people here. Coming so far from home, I had no idea what to expect, but the reception has been incredible, and I'm loving every minute of it," said Howard.
The fans loved it too. Thousands came out to see the star at a shopping mall in the city's suburbs. Howard fielded questions from the media, obliged autograph hunters and held a coaching camp for young hopefuls.
Howard is a strong believer in the power of sport and in the responsibility that sportsmen have towards their communities. "Basketball unites people. I have been playing the sport since I was three, and it has given me everything. When we were young, we didn't have very much, but we didn't complain. We worked hard and were lucky, and today its time for us to give back to the community. That is what we are doing here in India as well."
Howard was in Bangalore recently where he had a chance to train with the senior Indian basketball team. "They're all really good shooters. You don't have to be the biggest or strongest to play basketball. If you train hard, push yourself, there is nothing that can stop you. When we were kids, we didn't have a basket, so we used clothes hangers. Not having the best equipment is not an excuse. You can train anywhere. My only message is whatever you do, whether at school, or sports, be the best."
Basketball Federation of India secretary general, Harish Sharma was also upbeat about partnering with the NBA. “We are very keen on making basketball the number two sport in the country in terms of popularity. we have been partnes with the NBA for the last four years, and going forward, I am sure the partnership will lead to better results from our teams. At the Asian Games, we are looking for a top-six finish.”
And he said having superstars like Howard coming to India to interact with players and fans, will go a long way towards acheiving these goals.
The NBA Jam event will be in the capital this weekend, after which it will move on to Chennai on August 20 and Mumbai on August 27. During the event, Howard will host coaching clinics alongside other NBA coaches, and give the cities a feel of NBA-style entertainment.
So what has been the best part part about coming to India for Howard? "Seeing tigers up close was a dream come true. I'm single, so I have to say I have not seen so many beautiful women in my life. I have a huge crush on Katrina Kaif," he says with a big smile.