By Abhivyakti Chaturvedi
The National Basketball Association (NBA) and sports and entertainment channel SONY SIX, today announced a traveling basketball festival that would cover four Indian cities. The free event, starting this September will feature 3-on-3 basketball, music performances and NBA entertainment.
Announcing this two-time NBA champion Chris Bosh said, the festival will stop at Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. The winning team will be given the chance to play against three NBA Legends.
NBA Jam, which includes fan activities such as a slam dunk contest, basketball clinics, 3-point shootouts, and skill challenges, is the next step in an ongoing endeavor to increase basketball's popularity in India. An NBA office opened in Mumbai in 2011, and there have been over 450 events across 10 cities in India.
NBA India managing director Yannick Colaco says interest in the NBA has spiked in the last year, in viewership and social media following, with higher coverage of both the regular season and playoffs.
The 3-on-3 tournament will feature nearly 500 participating teams, with 120 in each city on the tour competing in two age divisions for men and women, 16-18 and 19-23. Winning teams from each city will be invited to the finals in Mumbai, where they will play in a replica NBA arena. Bosh showed great support for the event and said he wished to inspire blossoming basketball talent in India's youth. "Continue pursuing you dream," he said as a message to basketball fans across the country.
Colaco was questioned on the prospects of NBA making it big in India, with cricket being supremely more popular, and football and hockey having more exposure and following. The road for basketball's proliferation in India has been slow, with events such as the Harlem Globetrotters visit to Bangalore attracting a modest number of spectators. With the growth of the Mahindra NBA Challenge community basketball league - featuring over 6000 players - among initiatives such as NBA Jam and NBA 3X, a 3-on-3 tournament in 2012, Colaco hopes that interest in the game will pick up.
Perhaps nothing would solidify basketball and the NBA in India more than a homegrown star, similar to Yao Ming's role in popularizing basketball in China. It appears we could be getting close, with two Indian players having competed in the Sprite Uncontainable Game at the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston, and Geethu Anna Jose becoming the first Indian to try out for a WNBA team in 2011.
More exciting of a prospect, perhaps, is the 7'1" 17 year-old Satnam Singh, who has participated in the Mahindra NBA Challenge and has the tools to fashion himself into a professional player.
The table is set for further advancement of basketball in India, but it truly gaining a strong foothold verges on if, and it's a very big if, a young player like Singh or Jose can make a name for themselves and become a role model for youth basketball fans. Until then, basketball will have to settle for being the fifth or sixth most popular sport in India.