The growth of basketball in India has been a steady one over the years, and the country has been receiving help from the sport's most popular league in this regard, both in terms of infrastructure as well as training.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) first made its entry into India by setting up a basketball school in Mumbai in April, 2017. That was then followed by the establishment of the NBA Academy in Greater Noida in the National Capital Region (NCR) along with the opening of several other schools in cities such as New Delhi and Pune.
Firstpost caught up with Kim Bohuny, senior vice-president of NBA's International Basketball Operations, during the recently-concluded Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camp — an event hosted at Greater Noida that witnessed the participation of as many as 66 selected boys and girls from countries across the Asia-Pacific region. Bohuny spoke on a host of topics, from BWB's inception, the growth of the sport in India as well as the women's game. Following are some of the excerpts from the interaction:
Firstpost: Your opinion on the journey of the BWB camp and the impact that it has had on the league.
Kim Bohuny: I'll tell you just how it started, so you know. So in 2001, the Balkan Wars had ended, and Vlade Divac and I were together and he was shooting a public service announcement for the United Nations. The person that was there said: "Vlade, do you think we could ever do a basketball camp and bring young players from each of the six countries that made up former Yugoslavia. Because we’ve tried everything — we tried music, we've tried famous music stars, we've tried other sports, and nothing is working."
Anyway Vlade, who is a Serbian, said to me: "If you call Toni Kukoc (who is Croatian), if Tony's in, I'm in." And I called Tony, and he said "absolutely, we need to do this!" And at that point I believe we had nine players from former Yugoslavia in the NBA. They all agreed to do it, and we brought 60 young men, and we realised that we brought them together, we mixed them all up, made them NBA teams like we're doing here in India right now. And we knew we had something special. So then, we decided to grow it. So it started in 2001, and then 2003 we went to Africa. Then Asia, then Latin America, and then we added Australia and New Zealand to the Asian camp.
So we're thrilled to be here in India now for the second time, and what's really been encouraging to me is two things: One that we continue with the men's camp but we've added the women's camp. And by the way, I talked with our women's coaches, and they said there are four Indian girls that are here that are Division One prospects. It's a huge thing for India. Now we have coaching clinics. We've had the ref clinics. The Indian coaches have been so engaged. We just hope we can walk away (knowing) that Indian basketball has benefitted from this at every level.
FP: So does India have the potential to be a basketball superpower in the coming years?
KB: Well I think India's taking the right steps. You have a very large population that loves sports, right?
FP: Which translates to a big talent pool as well.
KB: Absolutely. And now, think about it. In just a few short years, we've had over 7 million children participating in the Junior NBA here. And I watched the clinic the other day, and those little kids have some real talent. Like I was really impressed with the young boys and girls. But you're getting them bouncing a basketball, so you start a love for sport at an early age.
And now we have 15 basketball schools for kids that want to play after-school weekend programming. And then I think that now with our second Basketball Without Borders, with this academy, you're getting more kids playing, so (coming) to your point, you have a bigger talent pool to pick from to rise them up with an elite development. And I think all of that will translate eventually. It's just going to take a little time to more successful national teams. And I feel like for India, once the national teams — both men and women — are more successful, you've more players playing college ball, G-League, WNBA and hopefully NBA one day, the population will watch and more and more kids will play.
FP: So I concur that the India trip as well as the direction that the league is taking in this country has been going well so far for the NBA.
KB: I think that we’ve laid out the plans, and the blueprint seems to be working, but we're still in our infancy. It's going to take a little time, but we're really encouraged by what we're seeing.
FP: A word on the challenges as far as spreading basketball in India is concerned.
KB: Well I think some of the things we need to work on here are (providing) more and better facilities. Another thing is, which we'll work together with BFI on, but I think we've got to train more coaches, because it's too full. You've got talent, evaluation. You've got to have young coaches that are going to go out and find talented kids and then teach them. And teach them at an early age. That's important too. Where the game becomes instinctive. So, I think those are very key components, because you have the population, you have the athleticism here, that's clear. But I think those two things will be key.
FP: As a key member of NBA's international operations, what's your take on some of the league's short-term as well as long-term goals?
KB: So what my group does, we focus more, not as much on the business side but more on the basketball side. So what we're focusing on, on the grassroots level, is just getting more kids playing basketball. Because you develop a love of the game at an early age, you're going to be a fan for life. However long your career goes. And that's very important for the league. And then also on the elite development side, we have five Basketball Without Borders every year, and then we have seven academies. So what's great is you have a (structure) like a pyramid. You've got Junior NBA starting at age eight. The basketball schools, the Basketball Without Borders to the academies. So now we've got the pyramid. And then I think another important thing that's been really helpful has been our great relationship with FIBA. Because, they're charged with governing basketball for the world, so working hand-in-hand with them to grow the game at every level is really important.
FP: Would you say that the NBA has an equally important role in spreading the game worldwide as the FIBA?
KB: It's FIBA's domain without question, but I think because of the popularity of the league — both NBA, WNBA — our USA basketball, the teams that we put and send to FIBA tournaments, you know they're very popular. So I think it is incumbent upon us to work with FIBA to grow the game, because we have the best league in the world, and that's important.
FP: Apart from the basketball camps, you also carry out a lot of social work. You think basketball, or sport in general, is a very effective or powerful tool to bring about change?
KB: Absolutely! I think it is incumbent upon all of us to always give back. Not only to the game but to the community. And we're very blessed as our athletes are quite famous, and children listen to what they say and watch what they do. So, for us to go and underserve communities and build reading and learning centres and spend time with the children and just give back, it's what we should do, and I think it's important.
FP: How do you see the growth of WNBA as well as women's basketball, both in the United States as well as globally?
KB: Women's basketball has always been very popular in the United States at a high school, college and a pro level. And now you're seeing the talent level. The game is strong as it has ever been. More girls are playing around the world. And the level continues to grow. I'm really proud of what the success of the WNBA and what it stands for — I mean half the population in the world are women, and it's important that they have the opportunity to play sports and play basketball if they so choose.
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Updated Date: Jul 01, 2018 22:32:12 IST