Can Sim Bhullar lead to growth of basketball in India?

Will Sim Bhullar be the new face of basketball in India? Is it time for Indians to give a chance to  other world sports like basketball?

Will Sim Bhullar be the new face of basketball in India? Is it time for Indians to give a chance to other world sports like basketball?

Indians all over the globe shared a moment of pride in the last minute of Sacramento’s game against Minnesota on last Tuesday night (31st March) when Sim Bhullar entered the court to become the first player of Indian descent to make it to NBA (U.S.’s National Basketball Association). The 22-year-old 7-ft 5-inches Canada-born Indian origin player has officially signed a 10-day contract to join the King’s roster.

America has a huge fan base for the NBA and the game is also the third highest revenue generator in the country after American football and baseball (America’s favorite pastime). In terms of world popularity of the game, NBA is the 10th most followed game. In India, basketball took off with a tie up between Reliance Foundation and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Just like the entry of Yao Ming into NBA in 2002 marked the rise of basketball’s popularity in China, Sim Bhullar’s entry into the league is likely to inspire and make way for talented Indian basketball players from around the world as well as millions of fans, both in Indian and America.

Indian Americans are passionate about the desi game of cricket and many of them tune in to watch IPL and world cup matches (often setting up their alarm clocks to catch up midnight matches on TV sport channels) to cheer and back up the Indian team back home. With Sim Bhullar’s entry into the league, basketball is likely to gain a base of new fans not only amongst Indians but also Indians over the globe. Many Indian Americans are sports buffs but the game of basketball may not exactly be a craze for them unlike Americans ( and unlike cricket which happens to be a craze for Indians) who have shown a traditional followership for the game. But when it’s ‘one of their own’ entering the sport, it is likely to translate into increased viewership in India and the Indian diaspora spread around the world. The sport is also likely to become popular with a segment of Indian Americans who do not watch the sport. It is similar to tennis followership that turned into a favorite pastime for African Americans after the rise of Venus and Serena Williams.

In India, the game is taking a serious turn with IMG Reliance entering a 30-year partnership with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to create a team of professional basketball in India. It wants to build up the game with infrastructure, organizational support and commercial backing, which can play a big role in the success of a sport like basketball in India. Cricket will be cricket for millions of fans in India, but it’s time to also give a chance to other games other than cricket and promote them by going to watch the game. Basketball is a highly competitive and entertaining game and it will be great to see its popularity rise after being showcased in bigger Indian cities.

There may be several things before basketball reaches a level of popularity similar to cricket in India even as a majority of nation’s domestic basketball players happen to be semiprofessionals. But India sure was a great opponent in FIBA 2014 (July). The Indian national team beat PRC (China) squad 65-58 making it a historic win.

I do believe India has rich sporting talents and the schools are where budding talents can be identified and nurtured. IMG seems committed to the game and has been bringing international coaches to India to lead ‘Train the Trainer’ seminars which teach the curriculum to local coaches and also train physical education teachers.

Looks like basketball is getting ready to win Indian hearts? What do you think? Will Sim Bhullar be the Indian link to the popularity of basketball in the country?
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