When NBA giants came calling to enthral Indian fans
NBA’s status at the pinnacle of professional sport, and global leadership when it comes to North American franchise leagues, owes to performances by its stars, and how meticulously teams plan to ensure they produce their best every time.
It was thus ‘hit the court running’ with a difference when basketball royalty landed in India for the first time earlier this week, with Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers playing two pre-season games. Or, perhaps roll NBA’s own version of the red carpet.
For basketball, the court quality is so vital. Almost everything has changed in basketball since the game was invented more than a hundred years back, except one thing—the game is still played, ideally, on a wooden court made of hard maple. All of the NBA’s teams, except one, play on the maple surface.
Mumbai’s NSCI indoor stadium, which staged the games, has wooden flooring on which a synthetic mat-like court is rolled and pasted. The NBA brought in the hardwood maple court in pieces, and it took them two full days to set up the court at NSCI. It is the lighter version of the court and weighs around 3000 lbs (nearly 1,360 kg). It comes in 230-odd pieces of 4 feet x 7 feet.
The NBA, it seems, brought a spare set for everything to avoid any untoward eventuality.
The Kings, a mid-table team from the Western Conference, and the Pacers, who reached the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, arrived in full force. NBA mobilised huge resources for a trip in the works for around two years. Both teams flew into Mumbai in its own jets, the Kings needing two of them.
The two squads comprised 38 players, support staff, dance troops and administrative personnel, while Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive and his family, and the Pacers’ owner Herb Simon were present. The NBA flew in around 300 employees, including senior staff and former players to promote, oversee and execute the programme. Besides the court and the boards, even everything required to set up two locker rooms and seats to be put around court were brought in.
While ardent fans paid big sums to pack into the venue, providing a glimpse of NBA’s popularity in India, the league looks to establish itself as a serious player in the burgeoning Indian sports business market as well. It donated a court to a municipal school in Mumbai as part of NBA’s legacy programme that will support five such municipal schools in the city with technology equipment, trained teachers, etc.
There was lot of talk of NBA programmes transforming the life of underprivileged school children though the kids who met the players were from the Junior NBA programme being run in some elite Mumbai schools. However, it was a memorable experience for the 3000-odd school children who filled the NSCI Dome for the first game on Friday and an equal number of fans, who had brought tickets priced between R4500 to Rs 80000 (for seats near the court that included a hospitality package and greater contact with players).
What did Indian basketball gain from the NBA games? NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke of plans to help start a new domestic league, set up more academies like the one in Greater Noida. Silver though did not comment about the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). There are two BFI factions and NBA has closer ties with a group not recognised by FIBA, the world body.
The Kings arrived early to soak in a bit of India as well. The squad visited the Taj Mahal and went sightseeing in Mumbai as well. The Pacers had a shorter trip, but its new acquisition, guard Malcolm Brogdon, was pleased.
“It’s been a great trip, the food has been great, people have been very kind and they have embraced us. I have tried some Indian food at the buffet at the hotel and it has been great,” he said.
Brogdon, 26, is only the eighth player in NBA—since three-pointers were introduced 44 years ago—to achieve the elusive statistic feat of 50-40-90 (denoting percentage of field goals, three pointers and free throws during a regular season). He achieved the feat in the 2018-19 season with Milwaukee Bucks.
His achievement is more creditable as he missed the final part of the season due to a plantar fascia tear in his right foot.