Basketball’s Quest for Number 2

Written by  //  April 21, 2012  //  Sport  //  Comments Off on Basketball’s Quest for Number 2

[A guest post by Kaushik Lakshman on why basketball is poised to be the next big sport in India]

It is no secret that cricket is the most popular sport in India. Its reach is so far that it is impossible for any other sport to even dream of being the number one sport in the country. But number two? That’s what everyone is fighting for. As less as the reach is compared to cricket, it is still, as an absolute number, remarkable to be in second position. In recent years, with the slow death of hockey, football and basketball have emerged as leading candidates eager to catch that spot. Within the next five years, basketball is headed in all the right directions to make that spot its own in the country.

To grow as a sport a lot of things need to click, and at the same time. Awareness, internal growth, funds just to name a few. It is not often this is said about governing bodies in the country, but the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is an organization that is well aware of the growth bubble and is making all the right moves to try and cement that second spot. A lot of it goes down to a man named Harish Sharma, who recently expired. Mr. Sharma was a visionary, not only with respect to ideas, but also with execution. He tried to build a model that was beneficial to all parties involved – players, coaches, as well as potential investors.

Investors is the biggest key word here, and the one that will tip things in favour of basketball by a long way. In the last couple of years, Indian basketball has been significantly improved by two major deals. The NBA, by far the world’s best basketball spectacle, has signed up a deal with the BFI to promote the sport in the country. Being the lucrative market that India is, the NBA wants to make the most of it, much like they did with China 15-20 years ago. The effect of its work in China is there for everyone to see. Be it medal winning performances, or Yao Ming, or just the sheer interest in the sport the country has, a lot of it is attributed to the NBA’s work. The NBA has partnered with Mahindra to start community leagues, and school leagues to target both the casual fan, as well as the grass roots hence covering both potential markets. The NBA has also committed to refurbishing and building state of the art infrastructure in multiple places across India.

In addition to the NBA memorandum, sports entertainment leader IMG has signed up long term with Reliance to kick start a professional league. Two years into the deal, both parties have made press releases to confirm that everything is on track, and we are rather close to a well planned professional league. It is important here to take note of the careful planning going in to make it a worthwhile venture that also has longevity. As we have seen with the likes of PHL, poor planning can yield immediate results but fail in the long run. The positives that a professional league ensures are mouth watering. On one hand it gives players a chance to take up the sport seriously, and for a living, and on the other hand it provides for multiple revenue sources like media rights, merchandising and so on.

The rise in popularity and the investments from abroad are not going unnoticed. Television channels are making the most of the bubble. In the last couple of years the amount of telecast of the NBA has gone up tremendously. From two games a week not too long ago to, up to six games a week shown live, not forgetting to add replays and extra programming, the NBA fan in India is watching a lot more hoops than he or she used to.
All is not about money and corporate bigs, the sport per se is also making huge progress. More progress that it was in previous years, as well as more progress than most other competitive sports. More emphasis at all levels is going on all round player development. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that an Under-18 team of today is far superior to one from say, five years ago, be it at club, state or national level. The difference in the senior team will of course not be that high, because the benefits of what is sown now, will only be reaped in time to come. The BFI hired two top class, experienced coaches from the USA to coach the national men’s as well as women’s teams. The progress is evident in our teams finishing in positions higher than they normally do in international tournaments conducted by the governing body of the sport FIBA.

All of this progress will be truly elevated to the next level, if an Indian makes it big on the international stage, and for the moment, the country’s hopes rests on the shoulder of a young Punjabi lad named Satnam Singh Bhamra. A quick Google search will tell you about the potential of this immensely talented 16 year old that has now been handpicked by IMG and BFI for a sports scholarship. Satnam plays for the U-16, U-18 as well as the senior national team. The 7 foot giant was awarded for his performances in the FIBA Asia tournament where his performances made waves all around the world. The best part? He was playing against kids older than him. And he is still considered really raw. There are multiple prospective careers like this that have gone bad with one mistake, but so far so good for the way the BFI have handled his growth. You can be sure that if he makes it big, he will have the same, if not a bigger impact than what Yao Ming had for China.

Going by all these things, and how carefully the development is planned, along with the support from organizations with expertise as well as reach, things look very bright for basketball in India. In two to three years time, it would be a safe approximation to state that basketball will be well and truly the clear number two in Indian sports.

[Photo Credit: The Hindu]

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