The NBA Travels to India
Akash Jain discusses how the NBA has introduced basketball to India.
SLAM: There are inevitably comparisons of the growth of basketball in India to how the sport has grown in China for the past couple decades. Since each country’s total population is similar, do you follow any of the principles that worked to grow basketball in China and apply them to what you’re doing in India?
AJ: Yeah, I think the great thing is we learned a lot. China is an important market. But India is also an important strategic market. We pick the learnings and we customized our approach here. We strongly believe that our development in India can move much faster because of the exceptional growth here. That, coupled with our long-term commitment, has us believing that basketball can become the number two sport here [to cricket] in the next five years.
SLAM: Where do you think basketball ranks now in India?
AJ: It’s hard to say. We’re doing our homework and research now to establish metrics to measure participation. There is a tremendous amount of buy-in for that [number two] position, but we really believe that basketball is perfectly suited for the market. There is an appetite for more NBA content.
SLAM: It doesn’t look as though India will have its own ‘Yao Ming’ in the next five years. Does India need its version of Yao Ming, or just an NBA player, to have that sort of growth which you and others are expecting from India?
AJ: Look, there’s never a timetable for that. If it does happen, then obviously that’s great. Our strategy, and we think it can be a successful one, is really focused on grassroots, trying to continue to build sustainable programs across the country and build a sport into a mass participation sport.
SLAM: How close do you think the NBA is to playing a pre-season or regular season game in India?
AJ: It’s hard to put a timetable to it. We are exploring when that could happen in the future. There are a lot of factors that go into an initiative like that. We do think that is something that would be great for our fans and the game here. So, hopefully that’s something that can happen in the future.
SLAM: Is there anything I haven’t asked about which you would like to point out?
AJ: Just a couple key things: one, we have a long-term commitment here to invest and to make basketball the number two sport. We continue to utilize the sport to promote a healthy, active lifestyle to youth. We’re seeing tremendous growth in our fan base here. The opportunity is just to continue to grow.