Could LeBron James or Shaquille O’Neal catch on in the Hindi heartland?
The NBA certainly hopes so as it plans a major push to introduce basketball to India and expand its already formidable global reach into a country with a soaring economy, a growing appetite for Western tastes, and, most importantly, 1.1 billion potential fans.
The NBA has had tremendous success selling basketball overseas, most notably in China, where the league estimates 300 million people play the sport and Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is a national icon.
India, a relatively untapped territory, looms as the NBA’s next great challenge.
But it could be a tough sell. The few public basketball courts attract little attention, and words like “slam-dunk” and “alley-oop” are met with blank stares.
To help counter that, the NBA held its first-ever event in India last week, a “Basketball Without Borders” camp that featured charity events and basketball clinics in which NBA players instructed young Asians.
League executives say they’re considering a wide range of plans to spread the game, including building courts in remote villages, seeking endorsements from Bollywood stars, and bringing NBA players to India for exhibitions.
“We see tremendous growth potential for basketball in India,” said Heidi Ueberroth, the NBA’s chief of global marketing. “The interest in sports is by no means saturated.”
Basketball is most popular among cosmopolitan Indians, for whom the game carries a whiff of Western sophistication. America’s ultimate gritty playground game has, in India, largely become a game for the children of the elite.
“My students, they go to U.S., Europe, and there they have so much of a basketball culture,” said Deepak Shukla, who coaches a basketball team at an exclusive New Delhi school. “They have Shaquille O’Neal shoes they get from U.S. … My students are from (wealthy) families.”
“The poor people will play cricket,” he said. Basketball “requires great infrastructure and money.”
Fascinating. Given their success in China – aided, of course, by Yao Ming – the NBA should be in a good position to make inroads in India. I have wonder, though, given the huge popularity of cricket there, what Major League Baseball is doing. You’d think baseball would be more of a natural fit with cricket fans. Anyway, it’s a good read, so check it out. Link via AOL Fanhouse.