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.”


Muslim Premier League stars join initiative to help UK’s health service fight coronavirus

Updated 10 April 2020

Muslim Premier League stars join initiative to help UK’s health service fight coronavirus

  • The NHS Charities thanked the players for the initiative

LONDON: Muslim football stars Riyad Mahrez and Xherdan Shaqiri are among 150 Premier League players who announced an initiative to help fund the UK’s National Heath Service (NHS) in its fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The fund, called “#PlayersTogether,” was revealed in a statement on social media by several of the game’s superstars on Wednesday, including Manchester City’s Algerian striker Mahrez and Liverpool’s Swiss midfielder Shaqiri.

 

 

 

 

“We can confirm that after extensive conversations between a huge number of players from all Premier League clubs we have created our own collective player initiative, #PlayersTogether, and have partnered with NHS Charities Together in order to assist them in generating and distributing funds quickly and efficiently to where they are needed most,” the statement said.

“It is about we, as players, collaborating together to create a voluntary initiative, separate to any other league and club conversation, to try and help, along with so many others in the country, to make a real difference.”

 

 

According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, alongside Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, the fund will be managed by Manchester United captain Harry Maguire, Watford’s Troy Deeney and West Ham’s Mark Noble.

The NHS Charities thanked the players for the initiative and it was welcomed by the UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had contracted COVID-19.

 

 

 

 

“Warmly welcome this big-hearted decision from so many Premier League footballers to create #PlayersTogether to support NHS Charities. You are playing your part,” Hancock tweeted after the announcement.

The move follows comments by Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters who admitted the league could lose “at least £1 billion ($1.2 billion)” as a result of the virus and this week suggested a 30 percent pay cut for players, but discussions broke down after the Professional Footballers Association said lost tax receipts would end up hurting the NHS.

The league’s players had been criticized, in particular by Hancock, for not doing enough in contrast with top players from Europe’s other high-profile leagues — such as Spain and Germany — who took significant pay cuts amid the crisis.

Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford acknowledged the criticism his fellow footballers had received and welcomed the initiative.

“I think there has been plenty of occasions, for me personally, where we’ve tried to help but we’ve not helped in the best way possible,” Rashford told BT Sport, adding: “You can get some backlash from that. We wanted to take our time with the decision.”

Other Muslim players from the Premier League have been active in helping the fight against the coronavirus, including United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba who used his 27th birthday to team up with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to raise £27,000 for their work helping the world’s vulnerable children during the crisis.

 

 

“It’s my birthday and I’m always grateful that me, my family and friends are healthy. Nonetheless, not everybody is in good health right now. The Coronavirus pandemic is affecting the health and lives of many, including children,” Pogba wrote.

“The impact of a large-scale outbreak, especially on poor and vulnerable children, can be immense.

“UNICEF is helping prevent the spread of coronavirus by supplying vital medical supplies, consulting with communities and implementing prevention campaigns. It is a priority to stop the spread of this new virus, and the misinformation that’s spreading alongside it. At times like this we need to come together.”

Arsenal’s German superstar Mesut Ozil also invited fans to share pictures of them proving they are staying at home with any of his replica jerseys, promising to share the best images on his social media channels and an invitation for two people to an Arsenal match at Emirates Stadium.