There's a big game taking place in Mumbai. Fans have thronged to the stadium in large numbers. And guess what, the jerseys are all out. The first 'super' fan we encounter immediately after entering through the gate has his back towards us. He is wearing this bright yellow jersey with the number 23 and 'James' imprinted on it.
Yes, we are at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai for the NBA India Games 2019. And we have a Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James' fan in front of us.The game in Mumbai, though, is between Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings!
But, does it really matter? Not to Sagar Shah.
"It's a dream come true," an ecstatic Sagar points out.
He's at the arena almost two hours ahead of the game after making a journey close to two hours with a bunch of his friends.
"We love the game and always wanted to travel to US to watch an NBA match. But what could be better than getting an opportunity to watch NBA teams playing in India," Sagar adds.
He's right. What could be better, especially if you are a basketball fan in India. After establishing its academy in India and numerous visits by their basketball stars in the country later, the NBA finally decided to bring their showpiece to India. Two pre-season games were played in India on 4 and 5 October between Pacers and Kings.
But then again India is not known for its love for basketball. They love cricket, kabaddi, badminton, football and somewhere quite deep down in that pecking order comes basketball or so we believe.
The first game on 4th was open only to school kids from Reliance Foundation but the second match on Saturday is open to public. Filling a 15,000-20,000 seater arena in US is a child's play for NBA sides but this is India. It's the litmus test for the North American sports league. The tickets are priced from Rs 4,500 to 25,000. The hospitality box prices could make you feel dizzy.
But the organisers are prepared.
NBA game watchers would know that the league just doesn't serve us a match of basketball but a tasty combo of sports and entertainment. Every break in a match is maximised with performances of dance troupes, singers, dunk squads. If it's not about the performances, then it's time for free goodies as free basketballs and t-shirts are tossed into the crowd. If not that, then you know it's time for the kiss cam.
— Ujwal Kr Singh (@UjwalKS) October 5, 2019
A basketball match is played for 48 minutes without a break, but it could take two hours or more than that for a match to complete with all its shenanigans put together. During which few things are guaranteed; audience engagement, fun and a night to remember.
It was no different on the night. Dunk squads amazed the arena with crazy moves. Dance groups grooved on the music and so did the crowd and soon it was time for the match. But just before the start the Indian national anthem was played out giving the feel of an NBA game in India. On the court we had some intense action. Kings came out all guns blazing. Marvin Bagley III netted 10 points as the California franchise ended first quarter on a 14 to 6 run to take 30-25 lead. The second quarter was about comeback. Pacers regrouped themselves and hit back hard. Holiday brothers took the center-stage and Pacers held a 12 point lead at half-time. Meanwhile, many celebrated Indian personalities had taken taken their seats next to the court by this time. Priyanka Chopra, Leander Paes, Parineeti Chopra, Farhan Akhtar and many others were in attendance.
The third quarter was equally competitive but Pacers managed to maintain the lead. Kings broke down in the fourth quarter and lead stretched further as Pacers eventually won the match by a margin of 130-106.
The result, however, is meaningless in the larger scheme of things. It's the beginning of a budding love story. A story in which the other party reciprocated impressively with love and knowledge.
The crowd in the Dome was boisterous. But it wasn't just some fanatic cheering. A lot of them knew their sport. The first quarter was brimmed with cheers of "defence, defence", a usual chant used by fans in NBA to distract the opposition teams when they have the ball.
De'Aaron Fox from Kings was anointed as the league's next MVP by the crowd and above all the biggest applause was reserved for legendary Larry Bird which would have definitely made him forget, even if for a brief moment, that he was not in Boston or Indiana.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) October 5, 2019
A group of girls showered their love on young Myles Turner of Pacers to which the blushing forward lifted his arm to acknowledge the chants of "I love you".
What would have thrilled the organisers was that the 5,000 seater arena was almost full despite the steep ticket prices by Indian standards. In fact, a kid from Hyderabad forced his father to dish out Rs 75,000 for special seats.
Yes, novelty was a big factor behind the positive turnout on Saturday but then again Rome wasn't build in a single day. The city of cricket and Bollywood showed that the basketball appetite lies in it.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently announced that they are mulling about launching a league in India. Saturday's game experience only would have proved to be a shot in the arm for the basketball league. Glitz and glamour could only take you so far, but persistent efforts would bear fruits in long term. And as another fan, Vishal Sharma said to us, "if they (NBA) comeback again, we will be back again as well".
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Updated Date: Oct 09, 2019 12:07:42 IST