An inside look at basketball in India

Journalist Karan Madhok

Journalist Karan Madhok

Journalist Karan Madhok gives a detailed rundown on hoops-related topics in India

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (March 4, 2014) — It’s been well-documented that there are millions of basketball enthusiasts in China. Yao Ming’s NBA career raised basketball’s profile and popularity in China in profound ways.

There are, of course, hoop fanatics in India, the world’s other billion-plus population nation. Karan Madhok, whose hometown is Varanasi, India, is one of those fanatics. He’s also reported extensively on Indian basketball and the NBA for many years. In fact, he’s become a prolific basketball scribe. His published reporting and commentary can be found at NBA.com/India, SLAM Online, SLAM Magazine, SLAM China, SportsKeeda.com, http://ekalavyas.com/ and also his own blog, http://hoopistani.blogspot.jp/
 
Looking to gain some insight on the development of basketball in India, the challenges the Basketball Federation of India faces, plus core issues that have hampered progress, I sought out Madhok for an in-depth interview earlier this week. He provided a unique, detailed look at the NBA’s role in India, the marketing of basketball in India and how Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, an Indian-born businessman, has become an important figure in both the United States and India for the future.

Here are excerpts from our email interview.

 
For starters, can you remember what game(s) or highlights really got you hooked on basketball? And was it the NBA, or another basketball league, that did that? What was it that made you realize you had a great appreciation or love for the game?

It was a two-way “hook” for me: I studied in a school in India where basketball was prioritized and was the most popular sport. So, from an early age, we were competitive among each other to improve our skills and therefore, competitive to get to know as much about the game as possible. I watched a lot of NBA basketball, starting from Michael Jordan’s “last shot” in 1998 and the subsequent season. That season had a major effect on me as the underdog Knicks made the NBA Finals (as the first eight-seed to ever do it), a run that included big shots by Allan Houston and Larry Johnson in the playoffs. Tragically, I’m still a Knicks fan today! I loved basketball a lot because it was fast-paced, energetic, and everyone on court had to be responsible at all times (unlike cricket and other sports). 
 
These days, during a “typical” month, how much time do you spend reporting on the NBA and Indian basketball? Can you detail your ordinary workload?

I report on both Indian basketball and the NBA nearly every single day in a month — especially during the NBA season — and I write about 1-2 articles for various publications every day. 

 
As technologically has advanced with social media and rapid changes on the Internet, how much more connected do you feel to the NBA buzz in, say, Toronto and Los Angeles and Miami and Minnesota compared to a decade ago?

The big difference is that, now, I’m instantly connected. I could still catch up with all the news I wanted in the NBA from any place at the end of the day. Nowadays, no bit of news is more than a few seconds away. 

Your column linked here (http://ekalavyas.com/2014/02/18/league-changes-professional-basketball-league-revolutionize-hoops-india/) provides a detailed, passionate plea to elevate the sport’s status in India and literally get the ball rolling in the right direction. What kind of reaction has this column generated in India among players and coaches, team executives and top sponsors and the big movers and shakers? How about among the fans?

 
That column has been positively received by Indian basketball fans, grassroots level coaches, and some players. Everyone connected with the game has been talking about and hoping for a professional league. The high-level executives in India have been mostly silent so far with any definite plans for the league. For sponsors, columns like these are encouraging because it reminds them that, if not now, there is hope in investing in Indian basketball in the future. 
 
As part of the blueprint for building a pro structure, how important do you think it is for Indian basketball officials and educational leaders to push for Indians to have greater opportunities to play NCAA basketball in the U.S.?

If an Indian is good enough to play at the high level, then I completely believe that young players should be encouraged about the opportunities of playing at the NCAA level and getting an American college education. I think it will be be important to try and emulate the professionalism of the American collegiate sports system in India to have an option for young players who aren’t good enough to make it to the NCAA level. 

Do you believe bureaucratic nepotism and corruption and/or incompetence are the chief core problems the Basketball Federation of India must overcome before a pro league can be launched? Are there any visionary leaders you have seen emerging to be the force behind a new league or very important transitional period toward a pro era?

There is a little or a lot of corruption in most Indian government-related organizations, but I think the most common complain in India against the Basketball Federation of India is with favoritism or bureaucratic nepotism. Too often, players, coaches, or executives with talent are overlooked for those with the right connections. Because it’s a government organization, the BFI doesn’t have the same type of results-based expectations that you would see from private organizations. Those in places of power can continue to stay there, even if they are sometimes incompetent. I feel that, in India, the real thrust forward will always come from private investors, but it must be done in conjunction with the BFI because of their nationwide large network and experience of running the game in India. 

It’s interesting you have noted that reportedly David Stern may have more direct contact with NBA India in the future now that he’s no longer the commissioner. Have business leaders and government officials in Mumbai, New Delhi and elsewhere made a plea to get preseason games in India?

I don’t believe that India yet has the infrastructure to support an NBA game, even an exhibition (http://hoopistani.blogspot.jp/2013/09/an-nba-exhibition-game-in-india-next.html). But Vivek Ranadive, the Indian owner of the Kings, has expressed interest in bringing the Kings to India for a pre-season game sometime soon. Whenever it happens, I expect Ranadive and the Kings to be involved. 

Just curious, from an Indian perspective, is the fact that Sacramento owner Ranadive now has a major position within the league an important tie-in to the NBA India to promote the sport and future opportunities for Indians to work in the league in various capacities?

Ranadive’s ownership of the Kings has been a massive boon both for the NBA (who are looking to promote in India) and for Indian fans, who can now hope for more interest from the league, or at least from the Sacramento Kings. There already are a few Indian-Americans who work in lower coaching level positions for a few NBA teams, and some of the other investors in the Kings with Ranadive are also Indian-American. But the NBA is a very competitive organization, and I don’t necessarily expect more Indians to be hired to work for the league just because an owner is Indian. We might see a rise in Indian or Indian-American investors, though, as more Indian individuals or companies gain financial clout in the coming years. 
 
Regarding longtime NBA head coach Del Harris’ recent trip to India, put together by IMG Reliance and Basketball Federation of India, how many coaches and players approximately took part in this training clinic?

The clinic (in late February) was held during India’s national basketball championship in New Delhi. Although there were about 600 young players and close to 100 officials at this eight-day tournament, I can assume that there might have been around 200 attendees at Harris’ clinic. 

 
What are your general impressions of India national team head coach Scott Flemming? How has he handled the challenges associated with the position since being hired in November 2012?

Before Flemming, the BFI hired a few more “higher-profile” coaches for the national team, none of whom were able to make a long-term commitment to India and thus, weren’t able to develop a team organically and see it improve. Flemming seems to be well-fitted for the cultural challenges of India and has accepted them with open arms. He has brought stability to the national team, and a system of development on and off the court. A few months ago, he was able to lead the team to a gold medal at the Lusofonia Games (http://http//hoopistani.blogspot.com/2014/01/india-win-mens-basketball-gold-at-goas.html), where India defeated higher-ranked teams like Angola and Mozambique. 

Indeed, India, and, as we know, South Asia in general, is a cricket-crazed place. That said, how vital is clever and persistent marketing to catch (and maintain) people’s interest in basketball? And can you think of a marketing strategy, advertisement or PR campaign — perhaps before a national championship tournament, for instance — that has reaped rewards, been successful, in India for hoops?

I think the best marketing for basketball events in India is now being done online, since it’s the best way to pass on information to the more savvy youth in the country, and it is the same youth who are being targeted to try out new things, like basketball. Events promoted through Facebook or Twitter (to a lesser degree) have far more effect than physical advertising. Most of the times, basketball events in India are only advertised through billboards in the host city. In recent years, with the NBA signing on a broadcasting partnership with a TV channel Sony SIX, there has been a lot more promotion of NBA-related basketball events on TV. The best one I feel was when Chris Bosh visited India last summer. The NBA and Sony SIX has several ad spots on TV, on billboards, and online, used the #NamasteBosh hashtag which was quite famous, and had a catchy/corny TV jingle about his visit, too. 

Which current NBA player(s) would you say are the five most-popular players among Indians?

Kobe, LeBron, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant… and maybe, Dwight Howard

Who’s your all-time favorite NBA player?

The Glove… Gary Payton!
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One thought on “An inside look at basketball in India

  1. INDIAN BASKETBALL IS GROWING DAY BY DAY AND TO SUSTAIN THE GROWTH WE HAVE TO BE PROFESSION IN EVERY DEPARTMENTS OF GAME FROM STATE LEVEL.

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