Over the years, NBA preseason games have been held at several other Asian destinations, such as Greater China regions (an annual occurrence for a dozen years), the Philippines, and Japan. It’s not a surprise that India, which doesn’t have the basketball culture or history of these other countries, was never seriously considered in the past.
The Venue for NBA Preseason games in India
The president and the top official of Karnataka’s Basketball Federation of India (BFI) K.Govindraj brought together all the National basketball federation members of the country to the state’s capital, Bengaluru.
India’s national teams (men’s and women’s) began to hold all of their camps and practices in the city. While world-class indoor infrastructure is few and far between in India, the BFI found an ideal venue in Bengaluru’s famous Sree Kanteerava Stadium for domestic and international games.
The arena, in the heart of one of India’s largest IT city, passed the International Basketball Association’s (FIBA) requirements and India was rewarded two major international events in 2017: the FIBA Asia Women’s Cup and the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women.
There are some decent indoor facilities like the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, the Thyagaraj Stadium in New Delhi, and the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana. But basketball is a low priority sport in the country and its overall infrastructure still lags far behind.
NBA Preseason Games and India…
Over in Los Angeles, the world-famous National Basketball Association (NBA) hosted its All-Star celebrations over the weekend, a showcase of the finest talent that the North American league has to offer. While some Indian players have made the cut in NBA, the league has been growing its presence in India for the past decade and have sent a number of superstar players to Indian shores to promote the game—including NBA champion and Finals MVP Kevin Durant last summer.
During a press conference the NBA commissioner Adam Silver surprised the international media by declaring that the league hopes to bring a preseason game to India.
“We have an excellent relationship with the Reliance Foundation and with other corporate partners in India,” said Silver.
“We have an office in Mumbai, and one of the things we’re looking at, which we hope to do relatively soon, bring NBA preseason games to India. A little is dependent on the arena infrastructure, but we’ve heard some good news from the market in terms of Delhi and Mumbai about plans of new arenas. So that’s something we’re hoping to do.”
Is India ready for a NBA kind of league?
Silver’s concerns about arena’s in India are real. As much as it might sound like a simplification to compare India to China because of our similar populations, India still lags far behind China in terms of sporting infrastructure. Basketball is perhaps China’s most popular sport, and the country has several international-quality basketball arenas, many are used by the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) teams.
For a brand of this status, coming to India is a calculated risk. Viewership for NBA games has become high over the past few years thanks to the broadcast on Sony SIX, but basketball still hasn’t attracted the country’s mainstream audience. As for live events, basketball is still something that fans are hesitating to pay for. India has no full-time professional basketball league. The UBA has held short leagues in cities like Hyderabad, Goa, and Chennai with free entry for fans. The same is true for the BFI’s national championships.
If the NBA wants to focus on star-power or political clout, they may consider venues in Mumbai or New Delhi, respectively. But the Sree Kanteerava Stadium has become India’s “home court” of sorts in the last few years after being seasoned by numerous FIBA competitions. When the NBA eventually brings that preseason game to India, Bengaluru might have a good chance of becoming the first choice of venue.
It will take a little bit of effort from both sides to make this dream come true, a well-run ‘pick-and-roll’ play where India provides an improved platform for the NBA, and the NBA sets India up for an easy path forward. With time, the rewards in India should outweigh the risk, and if all the forces align in the right direction, that pick-and-roll could turn into a game-winner
Basketball cannot be as popular as cricket in India dues to world class infrastructure and popularity for the sport. However, there is a massive scope for basketball to become one of the most played and followed sort in India. We think that in the mid- to long-term that’s something which can be achieved, and that’s what NBA and India is gunning for. We think it is on the right path, and things will only turn out to be positive for the game from hereon.