Mumbai: A 14-to-16-hour flight to a country thousands of miles away sounds like a daunting prospect, especially when it comes just 20 days before the next NBA season tip off, but Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings are relishing the prospect of being basketball "pioneers" when they become the first teams from a North American league to play on Indian shores, come 4 October.
In fact, far from being unnerved by the long-haul flight from Indianapolis to Mumbai and Sacramento to New Delhi, the teams are planning to use the tiresome flights to foster team bonding sessions.
The Pacers have many new players in their ranks including Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, and TJ McConnell. The Kings, on the other hand, have added Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph, Richaun Holmes, Justin James and Kyle Guy.
“Chemistry on the basketball court is difficult to find, but easy to lose,” said Kevin Pritchard Indian Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations. “We see this trip as a team bonding opportunity.”
Pritchard admitted that the flight to India “sounded crazy,” but they had planned to show the players videos of their teammates which they had shot in recent days.
“It’ll be a private video, but we have interviewed a lot of our players for this. It’s essentially for the players to get to know who sits next to you in the locker room. There will also be some reading material for players on the flight.”
Pritchard said that the two games in India will see two different Indiana teams take the court — one the main players while the second one will see the first reserves given a run.
He added that the franchise had planned on spending an hour or two on the flight talking about the city of Mumbai, which will host both NBA India Games, and India. The Kings will already have a wealth of knowledge on Indian culture since their locker room has Harrison Barnes, who was in India earlier this year. Their General Manager Vlade Divac was also in India with their Mumbai-born owner Vivek Ranadive in 2014.
“To play in the NBA is not easy and we can make a lot of excuses,” Kings GM Divac told journalists on a global conference call on Thursday night. “I know that there is a lot of travel, but we have tried to make is easier for our guys. NBA players are very hardworking and I think that this will be a great opportunity for them (Sacramento players) to spend time together as a team and bonding together in India and it is very important for us going forward.”
No player from either teams will arguably feel the effects of the long-distance travel more than Barnes, who apart from travelling to India in April this year, also went to China and Australia for the FIBA World Cup.
“I’ve been working with our staff here to make sure my body is in the peak shape. Despite the travel, I am feeling good and really fresh. I am excited to be playing and feel good at the minute. I am hoping to continue to be in a good position as the season goes on,” he said.
“Coming into a season, there are always a lot of moving parts, regardless of how long you've been together. But I think the biggest thing for us is spending that time together. I think that's what we're looking forward to most about this India trip and about this training-camp period, is guys just being around each other. We’ve had some time these past couple of weeks to just be around each other and spend some time, but really developing that bond off the court is what's going to help us throughout the course of the season on the court,” Barnes added.
Travel becomes a massive issue for NBA teams given how relentless the 82-game regular season calendar is. Teams often play three-four games in 10-day periods. Then there's the prospect of being at your best for the post-season Playoffs, which are best-of-seven games. Winning three such taxing contests gets you into the NBA Finals, once again a seven-game affair. This is why the term 'load management' is now a league-wide phenomenon.
But for both teams a big concern will also be time zones — Indianapolis is nine and a half hours behind India, while Sacramento is 12 and a half hours behind Indian Standard Time.
All of these concerns though have taken a backseat for both franchises, with the prospect of making history within their grasp.
“Our owner has discussed these games for years with the Indian-origin owner of the Kings, Vivek. There is a ton of logistics to figure out. But we will be pioneers for the game in India,” said Pritchard.
Updated Date: Sep 27, 2019 17:54:21 IST