NBA scores on debut in cricket-mad India but questions remain

Yogi Ferrell of the Sacramento Kings shoots the ball against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, October 5, 2019 at NSCI Dome in Mumbai, India. (NBAE via Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 06 October 2019

NBA scores on debut in cricket-mad India but questions remain

  • In a country where cricket reigns supreme, basketball has long struggled to make a mark in India
  • Basketball enjoys a limited appeal in the country of 1.3 billion people

MUMBAI: Seconds after the NBA’s first games in India ended, the packed Mumbai stadium erupted with cheers as spectators — some of whom were still struggling to understand basketball etiquette — rose to their feet.
In a country where cricket reigns supreme, basketball has long struggled to make a mark, and the NBA took no chances, launching a promotional blitzkrieg before the pre-season games between the Sacramento Kings and the Indiana Pacers.
As Indiana Pacers power forward Myles Turner, who helped his team to victories on Friday and Saturday, put it: “When you think of basketball, you don’t necessarily think of India.”
But the 7,000 sold-out seats and howls of enthusiasm at Saturday’s match suggested that, at least for some Indians, basketball matters.
“It was an exhilarating experience ... a brilliant experience,” said 22-year-old graduate student Akash Saraswati, who saved up for his ticket costing more than $90.
Even a broken leg could not stop him traveling to Mumbai from the neighboring city of Pune. “I didn’t hesitate,” he said.
Many of those who packed the stands were die-hard fans like Saraswati, traveling from as far afield as Delhi and Bangalore.
Others were there for a taste of something new, grappling with the rules as they watched the players dribble, dive and dunk.
“There’s so much grace and effortless co-ordination among the players. It’s beautiful to watch,” said sales executive Rajesh Kamble, who admitted he was still trying to figure out the sport.
The game may have confused some, but the entertainment was familiar territory — Bollywood dances replaced cheerleader routines and a Mumbai hip-hop group took over the floor before the tip-off.
The courtside audience included celebrities such as Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra-Jonas. The biggest ovation of the night however was for NBA legend Larry Bird, whose presence brought the crowd to its feet.
But questions remain about how much the NBA — whose 2017-18 season revenue was a staggering $8 billion, according to Forbes — is willing to invest in India and whether its audience will be restricted to hardcore fans and wealthy urbanites.
“The fact that the circus has come to town is a great thing,” said Vishal Jhunjhunwala, partner at Mumbai-based sports marketing firm, Square Consulting.
“But what happens once the circus leaves town?
“You need a local connect, a superstar with Indian roots for basketball to take off. That doesn’t exist at the moment, unlike say China where the presence of a star like Yao Ming galvanized his whole country into following the sport,” Jhunjhunwala said.
No Indian player has ever taken part in an NBA game and although NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters that he hopes to see that change within five years, few are holding their breath.
And, unlike cricket which is played everywhere from India’s slums to members’ clubs, basketball enjoys a limited appeal in the country of 1.3 billion people.
The cheapest ticket for Saturday’s game cost 4,500 rupees ($65), going up to an astronomical 85,000 rupees for courtside seats. In comparison, a season pass for next week’s second Test between India and South Africa in Pune tops out at 5,000 rupees.
Although the high price did not deter well-heeled sports fans, analysts say the NBA risks losing out on a huge chunk of India’s audience if it doesn’t build up mass appeal.
“You are asking people to spend a lot to watch a sport they don’t know much about,” said Jhunjhunwala.
To those in the stands, however, the spectacle was well worth the big bucks.
“I am a cricket fan but... basketball also has huge potential and hopefully this is the start of a new sporting journey,” said 25-year-old Danish Contractor.
In his comments, the NBA’s Silver said the games “required us bringing in a court, a scoreboard, seats, locker rooms” to Mumbai.
They will have to do much more if the sport is to have a long-term future in the country, experts say as the NBA pre-season Asia tour now heads off to Japan and China for further matches over the coming week.
“One game isn’t going to turn India into a basketball-loving nation. But it’s a first step,” said Jhunjhunwala.
“If they lose money on it, well, they have deep pockets.”


Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

Updated 23 October 2019

Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

  • Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals

PARIS: Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe both scored second-half hat-tricks in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur all recorded big victories.
Juventus, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich labored to wins on a night which brought 30 goals in eight games, a third of which were scored by Premier League clubs.
Sterling’s three goals came 11 minutes apart in the second half as Pep Guardiola’s City thumped Atalanta 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium to maintain their perfect record in Group C.
The Italians had earlier taken the lead from Ruslan Malinovskyi’s 28th-minute penalty, but they were soon overrun and remain without a point in their debut Champions League campaign.
Sergio Aguero equalized from a Sterling assist and the Argentine scored a penalty to put City ahead before the break. Sterling then took over, although City finished with 10 men as Phil Foden was sent off late on.
“I should have had four. Riyad Mahrez put me through and I was looking to put one on a plate for him. But I went through and should have finished it,” Sterling admitted to BT Sport.
City’s will seal a place in the last 16 if they win away to Atalanta next, as nearest rivals Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb played out a 2-2 draw in Ukraine earlier.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Brazilian substitute Dodo netted for Shakhtar, with Dinamo’s goals coming in between from Dani Olmo and a Mislav Orsic penalty.
Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals in PSG’s 5-0 romp away to former European Cup runners-up Club Brugge in Belgium in Group A.
Mauro Icardi scored twice for the French champions, who were without the injured Neymar but had Angel Di Maria in exceptional form — the Argentine set up four goals.
According to sports statisticians Opta, the last player to come off the bench and score a hat-trick in the Champions League was Spaniard Joseba Llorente for Villarreal in 2008.
“I wanted to start and I thought I was going to start, but the coach made his choice and I had to accept it. I also wanted to show that it’s difficult to get by without me,” Mbappe told French broadcaster RMC Sport.
PSG have a maximum nine points, are yet to concede a goal in Europe this season and will be through to the last 16 with a win at home to Club next month.
Below them, Real Madrid are up to second after claiming their first win in Europe this season. Eden Hazard set up Toni Kroos for a first-half strike that handed them a 1-0 victory over Galatasaray in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, there was a welcome win for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, who crushed Red Star Belgrade 5-0 in north London, three weeks on from their 7-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich at the same venue.
Captain Harry Kane scored twice for Spurs either side of a Son Heung-min brace and an Erik Lamela goal as they moved up to second place in Group B on four points.
“We know we have had a tough run of results and that was the perfect way to respond,” said Kane.
They remain five points behind group leaders Bayern Munich, for whom Robert Lewandowski bagged two in a 3-2 win at Olympiakos that maintained their perfect record.
The Pole has 18 goals this season and 58 career Champions League goals — only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul and Karim Benzema have more.
Youssef El Arabi gave Olympiakos the lead, but Lewandowski’s brace either side of half-time changed the game and Corentin Tolisso fired in a magnificent third before Guilherme pulled one back.
In Turin, Juventus needed a late Paulo Dybala pair to come from behind and beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 in Group D.
Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russians the lead on the half-hour and it took a stunning strike by Dybala to bring the Italian champions back level with 13 minutes left.
Moments later the same player scored from the follow-up after Alex Sandro’s shot was saved.
Juve are level atop Group D on seven points with Atletico Madrid, who edged out Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 thanks to Alvaro Morata’s 78th-minute header.