The NBA Travels to India
Akash Jain discusses how the NBA has introduced basketball to India.
AJ: Yeah, there are 8-10 very good quality, indoor arenas or indoor basketball facilities. We do see that as an opportunity to create more world-class indoor facilities. We’re exploring those opportunities with potential partners.
SLAM: What do you mean by ‘potential partners’?
AJ: There is a lot of infrastructure and real estate development happening in India. There is great interest to partner with world-class sports properties and brands to provide recreational sports facilities to residences and consumers.
SLAM: Are these indoor courts a possible conduit for providing more basketball clinics, or are you looking at basketball tournaments or leagues?
AJ: All of the above. We have a comprehensive plan to grow the sport, and utilizing indoor facilities for things like coaching clinics, which we think are critically important to developing Indian coaches…we recently had a Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA program which culminated this past weekend in five cities, cities that could use indoor facilities. The Mahindra NBA Challenge is played indoors in some cities. We’ll look to do more camps and clinics.
SLAM: I should back up a bit. How long has the NBA office in India been established?
AJ: We actually have not established it yet. We are in the process of doing that. It’s in our plans to do that a little bit later this year, so we have a staff that is dedicated full-time to growing a sport and then growing our brand in India. That staff is based in New York, and I’m part of that. We travel to the markets regularly.
SLAM: In what city will the office be established?
AJ: We’re still finalizing the details, so hopefully we’ll be able to communicate that to you pretty soon.
SLAM: How long has the NBA been conducting clinics in the country?
AJ: Since July 2008. In July 2008 was when we brought the first grassroots program to India, which was Basketball Without Borders. It was a great way for us to plant a flag here because it focused on basketball development and community engagement, which are two very critical temples in our strategy.
SLAM: What was the level of access in July 2008 that the average Indian kid would have to playing basketball?
AJ: What we saw when we started to research the market was access in urban India is very high. We saw that most schools and colleges have courts, have teams that participate in tournaments and, therefore, have basketball equipment. That was one of the first factors that showcased there was great opportunity to build here.
SLAM: To what extent has that access has grown?
AJ: We believe it’s increased significantly and we think the biggest factor is that along with our partners we’ve been able to create more structured, organized programs – things like the Mahindra NBA Challenge, the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA program. We’ve seen a great appetite for more structured programs with players and coaches.
SLAM: I did an interview with NBA Africa last year for SLAMonline and one of the more critical elements of growing basketball there was educating coaches, so that they can better educate and coach players. Do you see the same situation in India?
AJ: Absolutely. It’s a great integral part to our strategy. Over the last three years, we estimate we’ve conducted a few hundred coaching clinics across the country. Most recently, we partnered with HP to conduct coaching clinics across five cities as part of the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA program. A unique part of the coaching clinics was we created what we call basketball in a box. So, we provided about 500 coaches across the country with a duffel bag which had an India-centric coaching guide, two basketballs, cones, a stopwatch, a basketball net and a few other things. We really felt like this was a legacy that we could get behind, which the coaches could utilize and then implement in programs in their schools or cities.
SLAM: How many coaching clinics will be held in the country this year?
AJ: I have to give you a rough estimate – I would say this year we will conduct about 75-100 clinics. That’s across different programs; it could be the Mahindra NBA Challenge, the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA program. We conduct clinics through NBA Cares. Clinics are apart of all of our grassroots programs.
SLAM: Are there particular geographical areas of India which have a greater interest in basketball than others?
AJ: There are pockets of the country where there is stronger popularity and participation. The state of Punjab, which is in the North. There’s just great interest and we’re seeing a lot of great talent. Ludhiana, one of the cities I mentioned earlier, is in that state and we recognize the popularity and potential in that state, and we created an organized program there. There is a state in the South called Tamil Nadu – again, just great interest and great participation. There are several others. We are seeing it grow in other areas.