Steve Simon and Vivek Ranadivé

Hoosier Hospitality – 8,000 Miles Apart

By Eddie White |

If we've heard it once, we've heard it a hundred times. You can't spell INDIANA "without" INDIA. A simple phrase, yes. But after spending time in India with the Pacers and the Sacramento Kings during the NBA's initial tour of this wonderful country, one must accept it's not just a catchy phrase but deep down, there is something very special going on here.

It doesn't take much research to find that the City of Indianapolis and the State of Indiana have been working for years to build business relationships with India. None other than Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger, who attended the games, said, "The importance and significance of the Pacers playing in India cannot be overstated. The Governor wants to bring the world to Indiana, and he wants to take Indiana to the world."

Yes, they are separated by over 8,000 miles but believe it or not, culturally there was a connection. Ask any member of the Pacers traveling party and they will swear they experienced something very close to "Hoosier Hospitality" on this trip.

From the minute the traveling party arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, throughout the stay at the St. Regis Hotel, the trips around town to schools and clinics and finally the first two NBA games ever played in the country at the Dome-NSCI SVP Stadium, the warmth, the genuine appreciation of the visit was felt in the heart, in the soul.

Pacers veteran Myles Turner, who had spent his off-season traveling the world as a member of the Unites States team, noticed something different here. "Personally, as much traveling as I've done this summer it's pretty cool to hit all these countries. But this is the warmest reception I've received. Being a part of these first games (in India); it's something we'll be able to look back on one day. We left a mark."

We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge two men who made this happen. First of all, Kings Governor Vivek Ranadivé, himself a Mumbai native, wanted to bring his team to India since the day he bought the franchise. Though, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted to us, his toughest part would be finding a partner. Little did the league know, he ALREADY had one.

At one of his first NBA league meetings, Vivek huddled with Pacers Chairman and CEO Herb Simon, who has already seen his team play in London, the Philippines, China and Taiwan. Simon said, "Vivek, I know you. I know you want to take your team home and I want you to promise me one thing. When you do, you take us with you."

So, Vivek had his partner. Silver smiled when he recalled the conversation with the Kings owner. "I would have guessed it would be Herb," said the NBA boss. "Herb is always thinking global. He is always thinking of the league first. Vivek had his partner and what a perfect pairing it is."

Ranadivé is not shy about his respect for the Pacers leadership. "Herb and Steve Simon are friends, first of all," said the Kings head. "To have them and their team along with me and my team on this journey home is perfectly fitting."

"I like Vivek" said Herb. "I knew this was very special to him. I really believe this game of basketball, which my brothers and I first fell in love with as kids back in New York, should be shared with the world."

On the Saturday afternoon of the last game, a visit by Ranadivé; Silver; Pacers Owner and alternate NBA Governor (and Herb's son) Steve Simon; Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Rick Fuson and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb to the BMC Marathi School at Sitaram Mills Compound in Mumbai, was what it was ALL about.

You see, the Pacers, the Kings and the NBA – in partnership with the American India Foundation (AIG) - announced that they collectively committed to support five under-resourced municipal schools in Mumbai with technology equipment, trained teachers, a basketball court and improved infrastructure capacities.

"The trip to the school for the Legacy visit was overwhelming," offered Fuson. "Steve (Simon), the Governor and I were touched by the sincere appreciation of these students and teachers. To know that the NBA, the Pacers and the Kings care that much about them, meant a lot to them. And it certainly was a warm moment for us."

In basketball terms it was simply two exhibition games (which the Pacers won both, of course). The first game featured a crowd that included over 3,000 school children from Mumbai. Then there was the bit of news that caused a huge internet buzz back in Indiana – India native, actress Priyanka Chopra (who was on hand for the second game, cheering on the Pacers while sitting next to the team bench, and attended the NBA India Welcome Gala earlier in the week) was not only a huge Pacers fan but spent a year in high school at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Ind.

But, the bigger picture, one that the Hoops Head trifecta of Silver, Ranadivé and Simon has always been inclined to pursue, is what is most important. Herb Simon has always insisted that his organization, whether it be the Pacers, the Indiana Fever of the WNBA, the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants of the G League or even Pacers Gaming of the NBA 2K League, were about two things: Winning championships… and serving community.

In this case, the community extended some 8,000 miles from Marion County.

A few days before the games were played, Ranadivé greeted at the NBA India Welcome Gala with a special phrase from his homeland: "Jai Ho." It means, "Let Victory Prevail."

Not only did victory prevail in Mumbai, but sportsmanship, human spirit, respect, support to those in need and just general overall goodwill, prevailed.

Jai Ho. Yes.

Jai Ho, indeed.

(Eddie White is the Senior Director of Public Relations for Pacers Sports & Entertainment. He has traveled with the Pacers to China, Taiwan, London and now, Mumbai).

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