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The NBA in Our Backyard―NBA India Games 2019

On 4th and 5th October, the Sacramento Kings played the Indiana Pacers in Mumbai as a part of the NBA’s preseason, at the NSCI Dome in Worli. Basketball fans all over the country celebrated this landmark event since this was the first time an NBA game was held in India.   

The game begins with a fierce tip-off. (Image Credits: AFP)

A driving influence behind bringing the games to the country was Indian-American businessman Vivek Ranadive. Ranadive, a Mumbaikar who owns the Sacramento Kings, had been pushing for the league to play a match in India. Ranadive and the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, visited India in December 2014 to lay the foundation for the games. The first game on 4th October was open only to students of the Reliance Foundation but the second match on Saturday was open to the public. The audience didn’t disappoint, filling the entire stadium with jerseys of various colours and teams. Dunk squads and members of the rap group Gully Gang performed at the event to hype the audience before the upcoming spectacle. After the pre-game warm-ups and pleasantries, the national anthems of both countries USA and India were played. The Indian national anthem being played before the NBA game reinforced the surreality of the moment.

Following the conclusion of the pre-game ceremonies, the historic match finally began. DJ Warren started the proceedings with a two-pointer for the Pacers and then collected a lone point, but Marvin Bagley’s jump shots put the Kings slightly ahead as he grabbed back-to-back two-pointers. It was neck-to-neck then with Pacers ahead 15-14 with five minutes left in the opening quarter. A three-pointer by Marvin Bagley put the Kings 19-17 ahead, but the Pacers soon bridged the gap. Sacramento called a time-out and came back guns blazing, moving ahead with a score of 28-23. The Kings ended the first quarter with a slim lead of 30-25.

T.J McConnell of the Indiana Pacers drives in for a lay-up. (Image Credits: Punit Paranjpe/ AFP via Getty Images.)

Cutting the defence, Domantas Sabonis highlighted the difference in the skills of NBA players, dunking the ball to finish the play. Back-to-back three-pointers by both teams brought the score to a tie of 33-33. The second quarter proved to be a comeback as the Pacers regrouped themselves and hit back hard. The Holiday brothers took the centre-stage as Aaron Holiday scored five points and Justin Holiday scored a three. Justin and Edmond Summer went on a roll as they brought the Pacers up 11 points bringing the score to 55-44, going into another timeout. Two consecutive three-pointers by Buddy Hield brought Sacramento back into the game, but the relentless Indiana offence continued racking up points as they ended the second quarter with a 71-59 lead.

The halftime continued with the in-arena entertainment, with a ‘t-shirt toss’, which has been a beloved part of the game-viewing experience for fans. The crowd was also featured on the massive screen as part of ‘Fashion Cam’ and ‘Emoji Cam’a game where people had to enact the emoticon being shown on the screen as the camera panned to them.

The game was graced with the presence of celebrities and former NBA players alike. Stars such as Priyanka Chopra, Russell Peters, Bhuvan Bam and Rannvijay Singha filled the stadium. Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State Youth Affairs & Sports, also attended the event to show his support for the game. In between quarters, former Sacramento legends Jason Williams and Vlade Divac were introduced to cheers from the crowd. The NBA had also organised a meet-and-greet session with Williams, affectionately called ‘White Chocolate’ by fans and famous for his elbow pass, on 3rd October. The biggest applause, however, was reserved for Larry Bird, who is widely regarded as one of the best to ever play in the NBA. He was greeted with chants of “Larry, Larry” as he rose and waved to the fans in the arena.

The Kings started the third quarter aiming to get back into the game, but to no avail as the Pacers kept adding to the tally of points. They headed into the fourth quarter with a 17- point lead, which was no different as the Pacers continued to cruise past, while their opponents were left playing catch-up. With some brilliant basketball on display, Pacers came out on top 130-106 in the second pre-season game between the two sides.

Indiana’s Alize Johnson on a fast-break play. (Image Credits: Reuters.)

The result, however, carried little meaning in the larger picture. It was the culmination of a near-decade-long effort, with the NBA finally arriving in India and putting on a show for the basketball enthusiasts in the country.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver marvelled at the enormous progress the NBA has made in India and spoke about the league’s future in the country. “We’ve seen enormous progress in India just in the last five years. One of the things we’ve been discussing recentlyand I know this is something else my friend Vivek [Ranadive] is pushing me onis the ability to launch a league here in India,” Silver told media at a press conference before the first game. In addition, the NBA has committed to growing basketball in India and encouraging the youth to play the game. It launched the NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training centre, in May 2017. The academy builds on its existing development initiatives in India, such as the Reliance Foundation Jr NBA program, which has reached more than 6 million children since its launch in 2013. An NBA Basketball school has also been set up in Mumbai, with plans to launch more in the future. “I think our two most immediate goals in India for the NBA areone, to see the development of some top-tier talent coming out of India and making it to the NBA and WNBA, and two, serious consideration of the launch of a league.” Silver added.

As part of the Legacy Project, the NBA, along with Indiana and Sacramento, visited five under-resourced municipal schools in and around Mumbai and provided them with technology updates, new basketball courts and improved infrastructure. With the consistent growth of basketball and the development of grassroots efforts encouraging people to play the game, the league promises to have an exciting future in India.

Featured Image Credits: The National Basketball Association