Five years. That’s how long it would take for the first Indian player to make it to the NBA. Well, at least that’s the time frame estimated by the NBA’s Commissioner David Stern when he made his first-ever visit to India in early April. Stern’s projection was more of a challenge than a prophecy, a call to every one of India’s hundreds of thousands of young kids dreaming the ultimate dream: to one day suit up to showcase their skills in the world’s finest basketball league. Whenever that moment happens, you can be assured that the number of basketball and NBA aficionados in India will spike instantly. There will be more players on court and more fans watching the game from home. Through India, the NBA will find a goldmine of more youth ready to embrace with open hands.
It could take five years, or seven, or ten before we see a player from India banking in post-shots or running the break; but fortunately, we don’t have to wait that long to see an Indian becoming a major mover-and-shaker in the NBA.
Setting a historic milestone, Mumbai-born software mogul Vivek Ranadivé has become the first-ever Indian majority owner of an NBA franchise
after the NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved the sale of the Sacramento Kings
to his group. In the process, Ranadivé and his group were able to save the Kings in Sacramento – where they had been since moving from Kansas City in 1985 – and block the franchise’s sale and relocation to Seattle.
Ownership of the Kings puts the founder and CEO of TIBCO Software in a unique position. Formerly a minority owner with the Golden State Warriors, Ranadivé brought in his revolutionary ideas to the franchise, combining his Indian and software background together to organize ‘Bollywood Nights’ and helping the Warriors develop real-time technology for fan interaction. It’s clear that now, at the helm in Sacramento, he will continue going forward in the two directions, using technology to make basketball more popular worldwide as well as hold outreach programmes for the Kings to connect with Indian fans.
Ranadivé has spoken at various times to build a ‘global brand’ with these Sacramento Kings. And where else to find the globe’s still-untapped basketball market than India? Call it a ‘cricket-crazy’ country, where a billion fanatics are ready to ‘bleed blue’ every time MS Dhoni steps out to the crease. But basketball has been one of the fastest rising sports in India over the past few years, and if the NBA can borrow even a small percentage of those cricket (or football, or field hockey) loving sports fans, it will be a mammoth number from the world’s second-most populous nation.
Until now, for most of us, the NBA has been an exotic dreamland. A place with which few of us can relate to. A world where beautifully polished basketball courts and state-of-the-art arenas reflect back to us only the infrastructure that we don’t have back home. A fraternity of the world’s most incredible athletes who can do things most of us have never seen a human being do in person. Looking from India, we were outsiders to this world of basketball’s best players, coaches, and marketing wizards. We were from the outside looking in.
And then the NBA started coming to us. As more players visited India, we saw them closer and knew that they saw some worth in us. The NBA’s presence in India grew, from coaches to training camps to the league’s first-ever India office. More than 20 years after first going to China, Stern came to India, and made sure that we knew that we were part of the NBA’s bold new future.
And then came in Vivek Ranadivé, a man who not only saved basketball in Sacramento, but bridged the gap between the NBA and India by further boosting basketball back in his country of origin. Now with Ranadivé at the head, we feel closer. We don’t feel that we’re outside anymore. One of us is there amongst the fraternity of this amazing league. One of us will be making decisions for the future of an NBA franchise, and thus, part of the future of the NBA itself. One of us is making that exotic dreamland feel a lot more real.
Everything is connected. Ranadivé wants to promote the Kings worldwide, and promote the NBA to India, and Indian fans will respond now that they see their dreams even closer than before. David Stern’s challenge was five years. It’s time for India’s best young players to prove him right!