From conducting a record-setting basketball lesson to being awestruck by one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Kevin Durant relished his first visit to India.
The Golden State Warriors’ forward recently wrapped up a three-day trip in which he supported the continued growth of basketball in India, where the NBA is committed to developing talent at the grassroots level and shaping the game’s future there.
“The buzz around basketball here is growing and growing every single day,” Durant said. “Getting up at 6 in the morning to watch a Finals game, that shows dedication, that shows passion and love. There are so many basketball players here. It’s on us as NBA players to inspire new basketball players. ... We’re just planting seeds, and hopefully by next year at this time we’ll see more and more eyes on the game of basketball."
Durant’s jam-packed experience came six weeks after he led the Warriors to their second NBA championship in three years, earning Finals MVP honors with averages of 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists in a five-game series victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Fittingly, fans showered the 28-year-old Durant with chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P” when he arrived in New Delhi last Thursday -- the first of many outpourings of support for the 2013-14 regular-season MVP in a country where basketball is the second-fastest-growing sport among boys and girls.
“It’s been overwhelming, this much love,” Durant said during the trip. “It’s definitely appreciated.”
The eight-time All-Star showed his appreciation on Friday when he became the first active NBA player to visit The NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training center for the country’s top male and female prospects located in the Delhi National Capital Region.
The academy, which opened in May, builds on the NBA’s basketball and youth development initiatives in India. The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program has reached more than six million youth nationwide since its launch in 2013. In addition, the first two NBA Basketball Schools -- a network of tuition-based development programs around the world open to international male and female players ages 6-18 -- launched in Mumbai in April and in New Delhi in June.
At the academy, Durant led prospects through a series of shooting, passing, dribbling and defensive drills before conducting a large-scale basketball lesson for 3,459 youth from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program. Between the youth on site and those who participated virtually from Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata via satellite, the clinic set a Guinness World Record for the largest basketball lesson at multiple venues.
“Sharing my love of basketball with thousands of boys and girls across India was an unbelievable experience,” Durant said. “It was an honor to coach these amazing kids and to be a part of this special day.”
Durant’s day also featured the unveiling of two new basketball courts built for the Ramjas School as part of the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation.
To have a person like Kevin Durant coming here and inaugurating [the courts] is a lifetime dream."
“To have a person like Kevin Durant coming here and inaugurating [the courts] is a lifetime dream,” Ramjas Principal Rachna Pant said. “My entire school is on cloud nine.”
Another highlight for Durant in India was Saturday’s tour of the Taj Mahal. One of the new Seven Wonders of the World, the marble mausoleum was built in the 1600s.
“Taj Mahal, got it crossed off [my list],” Durant said in a video posted on his YouTube page. “Just the history, the deep tradition, you can really appreciate.
“When you see something that’s this old, 300-plus years, you realize that’s three centuries of culture that will forever be here to the end of times,” Durant said. “Just think about that. When they built this, they probably didn’t know how long this thing would stay up. To have this as a wonder of the world, that’s legacy-changing.”
Durant believes the legacy of Indian basketball is just beginning. He noted the recent groundbreaking accomplishments of Sim Bhullar and Satnam Singh. The Canadian-born Bhullar became the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA when he debuted for the Sacramento Kings on April 7, 2015, while Singh became the first Indian-born player drafted into the league when the Dallas Mavericks selected him with the 52nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft.
“There are two guys right now,” Durant said. “It’s just a matter of time before two becomes four and four becomes eight.”