There are few more quintessentially American sports than basketball with teams like the LA Lakers, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics being amongst the most famous of all. The sport has also produced countless true superstars over the years from Michael Jordan to Magic Johnson and from LeBron James to Kevin Durant.
Now, in common with other sports from the US, basketball is aiming to make itself just as popular worldwide as it is in its home country,
It has already enjoyed huge success in China where an estimated 300 people play the sport. Now it is eyeing up India as its next hotspot, tempted by the prospect of interesting a good proportion of the 1.4 billion of the population.
Already the NBA, under the leadership of commissioner Adam Silver and his deputy mark Tatum, is seeing considerable success.
The figures speak for themselves
Figures have shown that the 2022-23 season attracted more than 100 million unique viewers. They were able to follow the sport via a number of different channels including linear, digital and social media platforms.
For many their enjoyment was further enhanced by the addition of dedicated Hindi commentary and coverage that’s now widely available.
This is thanks to a link up with Viacom18 and there is weekly coverage on VH1, MTV as well as digital channels Voot and Jio TV.
There is also an agreement with the public service broadcasting network Prasar Bharati which show classic games from the past, documentaries about the sport as well as contests from the women’s NBA.
Plus, with the growth of sports betting across India, more and more people are taking a keen interest in NBA online odds.
The reasons for its growth
While it will never be as popular as the country’s leading sport, which is obviously cricket, there are plenty of reasons why basketball is being adopted so wholeheartedly by so many people.
One only has to look at how T20 cricket and the IPL has captured the imagination thanks to the non-stop action and pyrotechnics on and off the field.
Basketball is a similarly fast-moving game with points being scored every couple of minutes and often involving very close finishes indeed.
In a country in which 50% of the population is under 25 this is almost tailormade to provide the high-octane entertainment they crave.
Plus, like the many cricket games being played for fun in cities and rural areas alike, basketball can be played almost anywhere with the need for minimal equipment apart from the ball and the hoops.
While the NBA could just sit back and hope that young people come to the game naturally, they have a far more structured plan than this. The obvious aim is to spot and develop the young NBA stars of the future, putting them through college on sports scholarships with the aim of turning pro one day.
Official talent spotting schemes
They have a number of schemes to achieve this and the first of these is the Reliance Foundation that has been running since 2013. In the past decade it has introduced nearly 11 million young people, boys and girls, to the sport and trained 13,000 instructors across 34 cities in India.
In addition, there is a talent scouting programme called ACG NBA Jump. After visiting schools and other youth organisations this identifies youngsters with promise and enters them into a special academy. In the five years that it has been operating 20 young players have graduated and have entered the college system in the US.
A more oblique approach has been to exploit the links between fashion and basketball. So there are plenty of examples of tie-ins with brands like Adidas and Nike to get the look, as well as the love, of basketball out onto the country’s teeming streets.
The final contribution is being made via brand ambassadors hand-picked to appeal to the target audience.
From Bollywood to Cleveland
For their first one, in 2021 the NBA named the Bollywood superstar Ranveer Singh as their very first one. His brief has been to work with the NBA to both grow its profile and participate in a number of league initiatives.
Included in these is NBA Style, a dedicated Instagram account that brings together the sport and popular culture. Conveniently, Singh is a longstanding fan of basketball and, with a huge online following himself, it’s very much hoped he’ll be bringing many of those fans into the NBA fold as well.
February 2022 also saw Singh making his presence very much felt at the All-Star weekend held in Cleveland, Ohio. Playing in the celebrity game he sported the No. 69 shirt and, while he scored no points, he did put in a very creditable performance for Team Walton.
It’s very likely that he will be joined by even more brand ambassadors in the future, perhaps drawn from sport and other fields of entertainment.
It’s also very likely that the efforts of the NBA will continue to attract more and more basketball fans to this fast-moving and very appealing sport so its future continues to look very bright indeed in India.