India and the rise of NBA basketball

When thinking of Indian sport, the first things that jumps to mind is football, hockey, and of course, cricket. India is the source of some of the world’s best cricket players, producing talents like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Shikhar Dhawan. With so many passionate fans already focused on the established sports, is there room for another sport in India? Scott Levy, managing director of NBA Asia, says yes.  

The NBA began to launch itself into the Indian market back in the early 2000s, airing a few broadcasts, after realising the potential of a huge market. Since then, the sport has grown drastically. From 2012, Indian basketball fans have been able to enjoy games with the help of SONY’s deal to show NBA games. It’s not just on a TV screen that Indian fans have been able to watch the action. In 2019, India was treated to its first-ever live event, hosting a preseason match between the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers in Mumbai. 

As well as showing the games, the NBA has created and introduced NBA shows and media, designed specifically for an Indian fan base. This has included things like Hindi commentary over primetime game broadcasts. They have also looked to create shows with Indian influencers to attract the younger generations, such as shows like ‘NBA around the hoop’. As well as programs, NBA India has worked to grow its social media following by tailoring content specifically to Indian fans and has seen huge increases in following.  

To date, there has been no Indian player that has made it to the NBA league. Some have come close such as Satnam Singh, playing for the Maverik’s in the NBA D league but India is yet to produce a top-tier NBA player. This is something that the NBA is looking to change. Scott Levy has stated that the NBA plans to work with teachers and school children to educate them on the game and its values, aiming to inspire a new wave of basketball fans and players in India. This has the potential to cause an influx of Indian players into basketball’s toughest proving ground.   

So how does the NBA plan to create a new generation of Indian NBA players? The NBA has created the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA program. This is for children aged 5 and up and is the beginning of their basketball journey. Incredibly, the program is free and available to anyone in India. As children grow and develop, they can move on to the Indian on track (IOC) program, where they can learn the more advanced aspects of the game. The IOC currently has 12 centers operating in multiple locations, including Delhi, Pune, and Mumbai. Finally, for those who show real potential and ability, there is an opportunity to be scouted by the ACG NBA jump talent search to progress into the kids NBA academy. 

Whilst creating programs is a great step in getting kids involved in the sport, another huge endorsement for basketball in India has been for NBA superstars to visit the country. This has come as part of the NBA’s plan to grow and increase the popularity of basketball. To date a whole host of players have visited the county including; Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Paul Gasol, and Isaiah Thomas.  

To summarise, the NBA has seen huge growth and still has so much potential to reach millions more. Currently, 11 million boys and girls have been introduced to the game through NBA-run programs and 90 million people in India are regularly tuning into games. With a mix of NBA promotion, kids’ programs, and basketball superstars visiting and investing in Indian basketball, the country is surely soon to see a new wave of NBA dominance. 

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