Basketball can become as popular in India as it is in neighboring China and bringing games before the Bombay season can prove to be a timely catalyst, a top NBA executive told Reuters.
The crazy crisis in India, with a population of 1.3 billion, has been on the radar of the National Basketball Federation for years, which has organized visits of 35 current and former players to the country since 2006.
The NBA also runs an academy near New Delhi and opened an office in Mumbai in 2011 – one of its 12 offices outside the United States.
On Friday, the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings faced Mumbai in the first of two games of the season in India.
"I've been with the NBA for 20 years, I was in these first games we played in China. It reminds me very much of our early days in China," said NBA Deputy Commissioner MarkTatum in an interview.
"Today in China basketball is the number one sport. 300 million people play basketball in China.
"It's very reminiscent of the early days of the NBA in China and I think basketball has the same potential here in India."
Since 2004, 17 NBA teams have played 26 games in Beijing, Guangzhou, Macao, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Taipei and the LeBron James Lakers will play a pair of exhibition games against the Brooklyn Nets in China. the month.
The 16-year-old champions the Lakers and the Nets will play in Shanghai on Thursday, followed by a game in Shenzhen on October 12, expanding the trend of NBA teams competing in China.
According to the team's annual digital performance report, the NBA franchises gained a total of 47 million new followers on Chinese social media platforms last season.
The popularity of Chinese basketball icon Yao Ming, who played nine seasons in the NBA with Houston Rockets, has opened the door for the NBA in his home country, but Indian players have yet to make a mark in the league.
"There is no doubt that Yao's presence has helped accelerate our interest in playing basketball there," said Tatum, who is also the NBA's chief operating officer. "And now, even after Yao stopped playing, this passion has fueled Chinese fans and continues to watch the game in record numbers."
In addition to his academy, the league started the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program. in 2013 to develop the game at the grassroots level in India, and Tatum said the NBA has invested heavily in developing talent in the country.
"There is no doubt that I think that in the next five to ten years we will see a daily NBA player from India and hopefully start an allstar starter in this time frame," he said.
India is about to overtake China and become the world's most populous country by 2022 and with new populations and growth prospects, South Asia is one of the most important markets for the NBA, Tatum said.
More than 3.1 million fans follow the NBA India Facebook page, while nearly 100 million people watched NBA games last year with Sony Pictures Networks India partner.
While regular season NBA games are not yet a realistic prospect due to logistical problems, pre-season games may be a regular feature in India.
"So for us, we are seeing all this growing interest and the big macroeconomic players across the country, we see that it is very nice to continue to invest in India," Tatum said.
"I think, depending on what we've seen so far, such a huge response and a very, very successful journey and experience for our players and fans, I hope there will be more games before the season here."