Some of the most famous images of traditional India are the Rajasthani paintings of Kingly processions, where royalty riding elephants or horses are accompanied by a majestic, colourful procession. It’s a wonderful image of the age of Rajas and Maharajas of Indian history, and it’s an image that conveys not only beauty, but power and success.
In Sacramento, an Indian is hoping to become the King, but without a powerful procession around him, the mosaic could end up being all pomp and no power.
While the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are making headlines for their work on the court, it is another fascinating battle for an NBA franchise between Sacramento and Seattle (by way of Mumbai) that is shaping up to become one of the most intriguing stories before this year’s postseason. Mumbai-born software mogul Vivek Ranadivé – owner of the software company TIBCO – confirmed a few weeks ago that he has agreed to become the majority investor for a group that is bidding to purchase the Sacramento Kings and most importantly, promising to keep them in the city of Sacramento. Ranadivé, who currently is a minority owner with the Golden State Warriors, could become the first Indian to become a majority owner of an NBA team if the bid of his group (which also features Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle) to buy the Kings is successful.
Until recently, the battle to keep the Kings in Sacramento seemed all but lost to the group of investors from Seattle, hoping to bring the squad back to the city that lost the Supersonics back in 2008. But Ranadive’s involvement has added an extra boost
to Sacramento’s chances of keeping their Kings. NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper recently argued that, with the NBA looking to promote their brand and the game of basketball in the potentially exciting market that is India, Ranadivé’s background could even tilt the scales in Sacramento’s favour.
According to Howard-Cooper, Sacramento’s mayor Kevin Johnson plans to make Ranadivé’s Indian heritage a prominent part of his presentation to the NBA this week. In an interview with News10 recently
, Ranadivé said that, “Basketball is the fastest growing sport in India and we have a huge opportunity to establish a global brand for the Kings."
But the hype of an Indian owner and the marketing to an Indian audience can only take a team so far. No matter how well the Kings are branded nationally and internationally, they will fail to garner the respect that Ranadivé’s perhaps envisions without on-court success. Currently at 27-47 and once again near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Kings will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year this season. Since moving to Sacramento 28 years ago, this team enjoyed a brief period of success in the early 2000s, with the likes of Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, and more leading them through several successful playoff runs. They never won a championship though, and ever since that golden era ended, the Kings have been dwindling amongst the league’s worst.
NBA audiences in India, who are thousands of kilometers away from the nearest city of the National Basketball Association, may never be able to fully relate their support for a team because of geographical vicinity. For international audiences, success and excitement matters over everything else. By my accounts, the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls are three of the most popular teams in the country due to their historical successes. In recent years, big name players like LeBron James (Heat), and Kevin Durant (Thunder) have made the cities of Miami and Oklahoma City their ‘home’ court to hardcore NBA fans. Even the Kings from a decade ago have left an indelible impression of many fans, but they remember the team more for the successful years under Webber and Stojacovic than the recent years with DeMarcus Cousins or Tyreke Evans.
The Kings are a young, rebuilding squad, and are blessed with a rare inside talent in DeMarcus Cousins to build a franchise around. So far, he has offered the team a mix dose of brilliance and bamboozlement
. But the center is still only 22 years old, and can certainly be a valuable piece of a successful franchise for the future.
The Kings have a long list of other issues to deal with before they can dream of becoming one of the league’s elite. While they’re actually above average offensively, they rank dead last in the league on the defensive end, allowing opponents to score 104.7 points per game against them. They also struggle in the rebounding department.
To make the jump, the Kings first and foremost have to improve on the defensive end, a change that will have to be passed down through Coach Keith Smart to his players. Cousins has to make his game more polished and consistent. The biggest improvement has to come from former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who showed that he has the natural ability to be a game-changing guard, but has slowed down drastically since his rookie season. The positive development of other youngsters like Isaiah Thomas, Patrick Patterson, Jimmer Fredette, and Cole Aldrich will shape their future roster. And they have to be smart (and lucky!) to find a gem or two in the NBA draft – a feat much easier said than done!
It will take a concentrated improvement on all levels, from personnel on and off the court and in the effort of those currently leading the charge of the squad, to bring the Kings closer to Ranadivé’s ‘global brand’ dream. Here is a man who proclaimed that he came into the US with 50 dollars and strived for decades to turn his company into a multi-billion dollar endeavor. But turning around the Kings could be a challenge of equal proportions.
The decision on the franchise will be made by the NBA’s Board of Governors on April 18-19. Whether Sacramento or Seattle, wherever the franchise ends up, it will be thei team's effort on the floor that will ultimately determine their success. It will be a great story for the NBA and fans in India if a fellow national can become the league’s first ever majority owner. But it will be an even greater story if the Kings – or Rajas if we can add a little Indian flavour! – can once again become royalty amongst the NBA’s elite.