From the New York Times Magazine:
The league thinks India could be its next billion-dollar market. But first it needs to convince young Indians to fall in love with the game.
By Reid Forgrave, Oct. 3, 2019
… He has found inspiration in the few Indian players who have come close to reaching the N.B.A. — Satnam Singh, the first Indian-born player selected in the N.B.A. draft, in 2015; Amjyot Singh, who has played in the N.B.A.’s minor-league system; and Princepal Singh, an 18-year-old near-seven-footer who is now considered India’s top N.B.A. prospect — and he knows that if a player from India makes it to the N.B.A., his sport would become a national phenomenon.
Why are so many of the better athletes of Indian descent named Singh?
“I wouldn’t have gotten admission to this college if I was not playing basketball,” Hooda told me in Hindi through an interpreter. Many Indian colleges have athlete quotas they have to fill, as part of the national government’s effort to improve the country’s sports performances; that’s how Hooda got in.
So now India is imitating America’s unusual system of having sports quotas for colleges.
While cricket is still the country’s dominant sport — the 2019 International Cricket Council World Cup attracted 545 million Indian viewers, far exceeding the entire population of the United States — plenty see basketball as a faster-paced alternative, fit for a country that’s simultaneously urbanizing and getting younger. The N.B.A. has invested accordingly: Its projects include a youth basketball program that it claims has reached 10 million Indian children; an N.B.A.-run basketball academy located outside New Delhi that houses, educates and trains two dozen teenagers full time; and the hosting of the N.B.A.’s first preseason games in India, when the Sacramento Kings play the Indiana Pacers in Mumbai this month. At a September rally in Houston for India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, President Trump touted the upcoming games and asked, “Am I invited?”
Don’t you usually come down with gastrointestinal distress on about your 3rd days in India?
“But a billion people? That’s the biggest friend basketball in India can have.” What he meant was that there has to be a future N.B.A. talent somewhere in this huge country.
Maybe. My vague impression is that Northern Indians grow tall if they get enough calories. My son’s high school Sikh friend was perhaps 6’9″ to the top of his turban by graduation.
But how many world class athletes are of Indian descent? Since 2000, India has won one Olympic gold medal.
45 years ago I was a fan of Indian tennis player Vijay Amritraj, a 6’4″ rich kid from Madras. He wasn’t the best player during tennis’s 1970s golden age, but to win a major championship you often had to beat Vijay in, say, the quarterfinals. For his career he had 5 wins and 6 losses against Jimmy Connors, which ain’t bad.
But since then, most Indian athletic talent has gone into cricket, a sport that I respect but find puzzling.